Obituary: Josef Steindl

Josef Steindl, economist: born 14 April 1912; died 7 March 1993.

THOUGH trained initially in the liberal Austrian tradition, the eminent Austrian-born economist Josef Steindl described his economics as 'the product of England and Kalecki'.

Steindl was born in Vienna in 1912 and became an economist because his preference for becoming a biologist 'would have taken too much time'. He had an apolitical upbringing and no links to left-wing movements. Nevertheless he absorbed well the maxim of his first teacher, Richard Strigl, a pupil of Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk, that the discussion of policy depended first upon understanding how economies work.

Steindl worked from 1935 to 1938 at the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (WIFO), the research institute started by Ludwig Von Mises. After the German occupation of Austria, Steindl lost his job because of his hostility to the regime. Through the offices of Friedrich von Hayek and other Austrian liberals abroad Steindl came to the United Kingdom, first to a lecturing post at Balliol College, Oxford (1938-41), then as a research worker at the Oxford Institute of Statistics; he was one of the remarkable group of European exiles from Fascism then on its staff. They were inspired by their colleague Michal Kalecki, the Polish Marxist economist who independently had discovered the principal propositions of Keynes's general theory in the 1930s. Thereafter Kalecki was Steindl's role-model; indeed, his own work resembles Kalecki's in style, substance and depth more than any other economist of his generation.

In 1950 Steindl returned to Austria. Evidently, for ideological reasons, he could not get a job at the University of Vienna, so he returned to his job at WIFO, retiring in 1978 but remaining actively associated as a consultant with the institute until his death. Last May saw a splendid conference under WIFO's auspices to celebrate Steindl's 80th birthday. In 1970 he was made an Honorary Professor of the University of Vienna and in 1974-75 he was a visiting professor at Stanford University in California.

In the 1980s Steindl was a regular lecturer at the international summer school held at Trieste in August. This allowed younger scholars from all over the world to get to know him personally. At Trieste Steindl formed particularly close friendships with Amit Bhaduri, with whom he collaborated on several papers when Bhaduri spent some time in Vienna, and with the late Krishna Bharadwaj.

Steindl published two books, Small and Big Business; economic problems of the size of firms (1945) and Maturity and Stagnation in American Capitals (1952), both of which are recognised as classics in the literature. In 1990 Macmillan published a volume of his essays of the past 40 years. Steindl's work was marked by austere clarity, precise analysis, thorough and intelligent use of data, a feel for the role of institutions and of historical, political and sociological factors. Most of all, he could sense and set out the overall, systemic irrationalities of what was on the face of it sensible or at least necessary behaviour by the individuals and/or groups that make up the body economic and politic.

In Small and Big Businesses he explained the simultaneous presence of small and big firms in industries by the access which small firms have to niche markets for their products and the segregated markets for their labour; big firms are able to exploit scales of production and of investment which are denied to their smaller rivals, not least by financial limitations, and which allow the big ones permanently to receive monopoly rents. In Maturity and Stagnation he set out the deep-seated sources of systemic stagnation in advanced oligopolistic industrial societies, especially the United States, which derived from the strategic need for individual oligopolists to create excess capacity. The outcome is a long-term tendency for overall investment spending cumulatively to decline.

Josef Steindl was an unassuming, rather solitary person who hated careerism and ruthless ambition. In his work he explicitly identified heroes, villains, and victims - and said so. Like his mentor Kalecki, he had a deliciously dry sense of humour. He wanted his discipline to wipe out unemployment and poverty, so that others could, if they wished, have the opportunity to do what he himself loved so much to do - walk in the mountains, listen to music and enjoy the company of close friends who shared his decent humane values - with a smile.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...