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Tae-Hee Jo <[log in to unmask]>
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Thu, 30 Oct 2014 22:33:42 -0400
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*Obituary: Frederic S. Lee (1949-2014)*

Frederic Sterling Lee passed away on October 23, 2014, just one month
before his 65th birthday, after a brave battle against cancer. He was
diagnosed with stage four lung cancer at the end of February. He, however,
never stopped working for his students and for the community of heterodox
economists until the end of his life, as he always did over the past 30
years of his academic career. The entire community of heterodox economists
across the world is saddened by the passing of Fred Lee.

Fred Lee was born in 1949 in Nyack, NY and grew up in Virginia. His father,
Sterling Lee, was a labor lawyer and his mother, Marion Burks Lee, was a
politically active person. With this family background he was aware of
progressive politics and civil and workers rights even in his early days.
He went to Frostburg State College (Maryland, 1968-1972) and obtained a BA
degree in history. While doing his undergraduate study, he was interested
in philosophy and later in economics because he found that social questions
in the 19th century were mainly examined by economists. After two years of
working in Saudi Arabia (a supply clerk position with the Corp of Engineers
in Riyadh), he returned to the United States and continued his study at
Columbia University in New York City. In 1977 Fred Lee met Alfred S.
Eichner who later became his “mentor, dissertation advisor, and a friend.”
He once noted that the “discovery of Eichner” was “the most important in my
academic career.” With Eichner’s encouragement and support, Fred Lee
started his PhD study in economics at Rutgers University in 1978, where he
was taught by Alfred Eichner, Paul Davidson, Jan Kregel, Nina Shapiro, and
Alessandro Roncaglia, among others. After graduating from Rutgers
University in 1983, he taught at University of California—Riverside
(1981-1984), Roosevelt University (Chicago, 1984-1990), Staffordshire
Polytechnic (Stoke-on-Trent, UK, 1990-1991), De Montfort University
(Leicester, UK, 1991-2000), and the University of Missouri—Kansas City
(2000-2014). [For his early life before 2000, see his short autobiography,
“Predestine to Heterodoxy or How I Became a Heterodox Economist” at]

His contribution to heterodox economics and his influence on younger
heterodox economists are enormous and invaluable. First of all, he will be
remembered as the heterodox economist who endeavored to develop heterodox
microeconomics that would completely replace neoclassical microeconomics.
Through his *magnum opus*, *Post Keynesian Price Theory* (1998) he shows
that the neoclassical price mechanism does not exist in the real world, and
that there are alternative-heterodox theory of price and pricing which can
be drawn from the work of Gardiner C. Means, Michal Kalecki, and P.W.S
Andrews and Oxford Economists’ Research Group. This means that the entire
neoclassical microeconomic framework is incoherent and irrelevant and,
hence, a new theoretical framework that explains how the capitalist
economic system (or the social provisioning process) works needs to be
developed. He was working on this grand project toward the end of his life.

He will also be remembered as a tireless organizer and institution builder
who established the Association for Heterodox Economics (1999) and the
Economics Newsletter* (2004). He also served a number of heterodox
economics organizations and journals, including the editorship of the *American
Journal of Economics and Sociology *(2009-2013). He believed that
institution building is as important as theory building insofar as we are
concerned with the continuation and reproduction of heterodox economics.
Fred Lee’s commitment to heterodox economics is also demonstrated by his
book, *A History of Heterodox Economics: Challenging the Mainstream in the
Twentieth Century* (Routledge, 2009). This is the only book ever published
that deals with the institutional history of heterodox economics from 1900
to 2006 in the US and UK. More importantly, the objective of the book is to
show that not only heterodox economics did/does exist, but also it can
continue only if heterodox economists develop alternative theories and
build institutions in the face of the dominance of mainstream economics. In
fact, it took over ten years for him to complete this book. Once I asked
him why he spent so much time to write this history book and then he said:
“Because someone had to do it.” I now understand that it is not just
someone, but someone who has a clear vision, unflagging energy, and
willingness to sacrifice oneself for a better future of heterodox

Lastly, he will be remembered as an inspirational teacher and wonderful
mentor who taught students how to do heterodox economics in a pluralistic,
realistic, and integrative manner, and who cared about his students from
the bottom of his heart. Although he did not have many students who wrote a
PhD dissertation under his supervision, there are lots of young heterodox
economists who are largely influenced by his work. This is evidenced by all
the messages collected after his passing [see here:] as well as a forthcoming
festschrift, *Advancing the Frontiers of Heterodox Economics: Essays in
Honor of Frederic S. Lee* (Routledge, 2015).

Right after he was told that he got terminal lung cancer, the first thing
he told me was:  “We need to establish a fund that helps heterodox doctoral
students in heterodox doctoral programs.” As many of us remember, this is
Fred Lee, the person who always cared about young heterodox economists—that
is, the future of heterodox economics.

In closing, I’d like to quote Fred Lee’s last email to heterodox economists
(which was sent to various mailing lists on October 2, 2014; he personally
told me that this was his “last project”):

The 2015 Solidarity Forever Labor History Calendar is now available. It
features Joe Hill. If you do not know who Joe Hill is, I suggest that you
do a little bit of work and find out or better yet hum to yourself, “Would
you have freedom from wage slavery, …” And if you think you know something
about the 1% versus the 99% and do not know who Joe Hill is then I suggest
checking out the song “Preacher and the Slave” on the internet or some
other strange contraption that did not exist in 1911. In the inside back
page you will find a picture of myself with Joe Hill’s ashes—this is about
as close as you will get to any real hero of the working class whose life
was indeed put on the line—he was executed by the capitalists in 1915.

You either walk the walk or you do not; and my career (along with my
colleagues from around the world) has indeed walked the walk to ensure that
heterodox programs exist and heterodox economists have jobs. And this has
meant significant hardships for students and colleagues (not to mention
loss of employment–see “A History of Heterodox Economics”) to critically
study the mainstream theory that calls into question the argument that
supports the 1%. And it also means that you have to go beyond the critical
and develop an alternative that draws upon the different heterodox

Through the Heterodox Economics Association Booth at the ASSA 2015, 60 Joe
Hill calendars will be provided free to anyone. In return, all that is
asked is that you look at the literature in the booth, in particular the
scholarship material for graduate students. It is not cheap to go to
graduate school; and at times it appears that those who have obtained their
PhD have no interest in helping those who would like to get a PhD–in this
case, they are certainly not walking the walk nor caring about the
community of heterodox economists in which they operate. Do something–give
a damn. For more information about the Joe Hill calendar go to; Information about the
Frederic S. Lee Heterodox Economics Scholarship Fund can be found at:

Fred Lee is survived by his wife, Ruth, their daughter, Sally, and two
granddaughters. A memorial service for Fred Lee will be held Saturday,
November 8th, 1:00pm at the Ethical Society of St. Louis, 9001 Clayton
Road, St. Louis, Missouri. His ashes will be scattered at a later date at
the Haymarket Martyrs Monument in Chicago, IL. Condolences may be sent via
Fred Lee’s website at and memorial
contributions can be made to the Frederic S. Lee Heterodox Economics
Scholarship Fund which is housed at the Kansas City Community Foundation.
Donations can be made at

Tae-Hee Jo

SUNY Buffalo State

October 30, 2014