Posted: February 26, 2009
Most of us have a mere passing interest in financial crises, limited to times when our retirement accounts are falling. Fred Moseley’s life work, by contrast, has been devoted to understanding what drives these inevitable swings in fortune. His articles and presentations include “The Economic Crisis of the 1780’s,” “The Depression of the 1870s,” “Are We Headed for Another Depression?” (delivered in 1981), “The Current Economic Crisis” (published in 1988), "The Decline of the Rate of Profit in the Postwar U.S. Economy: Is the Crisis Over?" (delivered in 1991), and “Marxian Crisis Theory and the Post-war U.S. Economy” (published in 2003).
And even when, like now, a crisis compels our passing interest, most of us instinctively think about more pleasant times. Not Fred. For Fred is one of the world’s leading experts on Marxian economic theory and the nature of capitalism, and has made a career of studying what is wrong with capitalism. In 2003, he wrote “… very likely within the next decade, the U.S. economy will suffer another serious depression--and perhaps even on the scale of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The combination of a low rate of profit and unprecedented levels of debt will eventually cause widespread bankruptcies of both businesses and households. …” He feels our pain of course, but for Fred the events of the last six months have been a sort of storied wonderland, and he has entered a heightened state of intellectual nirvana.
Fred received his B.A. from Stanford in 1968 and his Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts in 1982. The economics department at Mount Holyoke was lucky enough to steal him away from Colby College in 1989, with a little bit of help from our psychology department. A prolific and well-known scholar, Fred has written or edited seven books and published numerous articles. His works have been translated into eight languages (Spanish, German, Swedish, Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Korean, and Farsi). He has lectured by invitation in Spain, Holland, Italy, Mexico, England, Brazil, Belgium, Korea, and Chile, and taught at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico. He has served as editor and board member of the Review of Radical Political Economics. In addition to his work on declining profit rates and crisis, Fred has worked on other aspects of Marxian theory including: money, the transformation problem, Marx’s theory of the distribution of surplus value, and productivity.
Economics, the dismal science, can be difficult to teach. Not, it seems, for Fred. In the best liberal arts tradition, he is a superb teacher with a very large range. He teaches introductory macroeconomics, U.S. Economic History, History of Economic Thought, and Marxian Economics. His students find him engaging, passionate, and a fantastic professor. One student remarks, “As he is an actual researcher and writer about Karl Marx I feel he brought his passion for the subject to class with him everyday.” Another reports, “The lectures he provided to the students were different from the other economics professors. They were simple, easy, understandable, and interesting.” Fred works hard to bring current events in the economy into class on a regular basis. One student remarks, “I learned how to predict the future economy using present and past data.” Nor does Fred limit his work with students to class time. He regularly holds the “Macro Month in Review,” a monthly discussion with students of current economic trends. Always popular, this past fall these have been especially important student events. Fred is a leader in the economics department for encouraging student research and has chaired both economics and critical social thought.
Fred has written about emphasizing controversy in the economics classroom, and he practices what he preaches. Indeed, teaching neoclassical economics at Mount Holyoke means talking to Fred’s students about the numerous flaws and logical inconsistencies stemming from a theory that presents equilibrium as the norm.
While we may wish that there were less for Fred to study or that his predictions were less accurate, we are pleased to recognize his scholarly achievements with the Meribeth E. Cameron award. Perhaps the policy makers in Washington might take a lesson from Fred on the real causes and solutions for the present (and future) financial crises.