Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.


OBITUARY : Don Patinkin

On the approach road to the main buildings of the Sherman Administration Plaza on the Givatram campus of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, you see a series of magnificent buildings, departmental blocks of faculty from Archaeology to Zoology. In blazoned letters, any passenger in a vehicle will pick out, "Donated in memory of --"; and then the names of American Jewish couples, some of them probably as rich as Croesus. No man did more to attract well-disposed American benefactors to give substantial sums to his university than Don Patinkin, Senior Lecturer, Associate Professor of Economics, full Professor of Economics from 1957 and subsequently, from 1982 to 1986, President of the Hebrew University.

Not only did he inspire confidence as one of the most well-regarded economists of his generation on both sides of the Atlantic, but, bow-tied, elegant and smiling, he was a man of beguiling personal charm. It is understandable that some of the most hard-boiled men of American business should see fit to part with a fortune at Patinkin's prodding. That they did this in such numbers was partly due to their realisation that Patinkin himself had sacrificed a glittering and no doubt lucrative career in the United States to go to serve the nascent State of Israel when the future of the Jewish nation was, to put it mildly, perilous.

Don Patinkin was born of Jewish traders who had emigrated from White Russia to New York after 1917 and had then moved to the Mid-West. He told me movingly that as a child he had had to act as an interpreter of the English language for his father and mother.

At Chicago, he had the good fortune to be taught by the caring Franco Modigliani, a future Nobel prizewinner in Economics, and to find that the young Milton Freedman was his colleague. In his early days in Israel he wrote A Reconsideration of the General Equilibrium Theory of Money, followed by The Invalidity of Classical Monetary Theory (both in 1951). While he had spent a year as a lecturer in the University of Illinois, he published Involuntary Unemployment and the Keynesian Supply Function (1949), which pre- viewed his future monetarism.

Professor Robin Matthews, former Master of Clare College, Cambridge, and Professor of Economics, who knew Patinkin well 30 years ago, describes him as "a man who was scrupulous as the historian of economic thought and an economist of great individual honesty'', adding that, unlike many economists, you could not tell which way he would jump.

His leading work, Money Interest and Prices, was first published in 1956. The second edition, published in 1965, runs to 700 pages, and the last paragraph encapsulates Patinkin's view:

The propositions of the quantity theory of money held under conditions much less restrictive than those usually considered necessary by its advocates, and, a fortiori, its critics. Conversely, the propositions of Keynesian monetary theory, are much less general that the general theory and later expositions would lead us to believe. But this in no way diminishes the relevance of Keynesian unemployment theory for the formulation of a practicable full employment policy.

In a word, this was monetarism, but more humane monetarism than we have been led to experience.

Don Patinkin was superb with students and had a mission to create a cadre of first-class economists who were also balanced people who would serve the Israeli state. Michael Bruno, former Governor of the Bank of Israel, said, "In the bank almost all are gifted staff of Patinkin's pupils.'' Both Matthews and Bruno emphasise how good a listener Patinkin was.

It gave him enormous pleasure that a conference was held on monetary theory and thoughts in 1989 to mark his retirement and was attended by Nobel prizewinners in Economics from all round the world. His book The Israel Economy: the first decade (1959) is a standard work and the Econometrics Society, of which he was President in 1974, will regard him as one of the pioneers of their specialism.

Tam Dalyell

Don Patinkin, economist: born Chicago 8 January 1922; Lecturer, University of Chicago 1947-48, University of Illinois 1948-49; Senior Lecturer, Hebrew University 1949-57, Professor of Economics 1957-82, President 1982- 86; married 1945 Dvorah Trossman (one son, three daughters); died Jerusalem 7 August 1995.