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Hyman Minsky, professor emeritus of economics

Hyman Minsky, professor emeritus of economics

Hyman P. Minsky, Ph.D., professor emeritus of economics in Arts and Sciences, died of pancreatic cancer Thursday, Oct. 24, 1996, in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He was 77.

Minsky, a leading authority on monetary theory and financial institutions, had been a member of Washington University's Department of Economics for 25 years before retiring in 1990. He also was a member of the boards of both Mark Twain Bancshares and The Jerome Levy Economics Institute of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. He joined the Levy Institute as a distinguished scholar in 1990 and continued his research and writing there until a few months before his death.

Minsky's pathbreaking work on the recurring instability of the financial system in a capitalist economy served as the genesis of the Wall Street paradigm. He was the author of four books and more than 100 professional articles.

"The defining feature of Hy's work is the importance of the financial system for understanding economic fluctuations and growth," said one of Minsky's colleagues, Steven Fazzari, Ph.D., professor of economics. "He emphasized financial fragility and instability -- the view that the accumulation of debt must eventually curtail firms' investment, leading to financial retrenchment and recession. Government monetary and fiscal policy, an important focus of Hy's research, may temporarily contain financial instability, but policy cannot prevent it from breaking out periodically. These themes dominate Hy's extensive published writing from the 1950s to the last year of his life.

"For much of Hy's career, mainstream economic thinking did not pay much attention to the importance of the financial system for macroeconomic activity," Fazzari continued. "But in the last 15 years, there has been an outpouring of new research, both theoretical and empirical, that rediscovers and validates Hy's views."

Minsky this year received the prestigious Veblen-Commons Award, which is given by the Association for Evolutionary Economics. The award recognizes the contributions of an outstanding scholar in the field of evolutionary institutional economics and acknowledges exemplary standards of scholarship, teaching excellence, public service and cogent research.

Prior to his University appointment, Minsky taught at the University of California-Berkeley, Brown and Harvard universities, and the Carnegie Institute of Technology. He also served on the faculty at the Centro di Studi Economici Avanzati in Trieste, Italy, in 1980.

He received a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago in 1941. He earned a master's degree in public administration in 1947 and a doctorate in economics in 1954, both from Harvard.

He is survived by his wife, Esther; a daughter, Diana Minsky of Rome; and a son, Alan Minsky of Los Angeles.

A memorial service is being planned. The family requests that memorial contributions be made to a scholarship fund for graduate students -- the Hyman P. Minsky Prize in Economics -- which was established at the time of his retirement. Donations to the fund should be sent to Washington University, Department of Economics, Campus Box 1208, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, 63130.

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