Keynesian Comparative Economics: The Iconoclastic Vision of Lynn Turgeon (1920-1999). (Remembrance and Appreciation Essay)

By Canova, Timothy A.; Holt, Richard P. F. et al. | The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, July 2003 | Go to article overview
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Keynesian Comparative Economics: The Iconoclastic Vision of Lynn Turgeon (1920-1999). (Remembrance and Appreciation Essay)

Canova, Timothy A., Holt, Richard P. F., Horn, Robert N., Rosser, J. Barkley, Jr., Rosser, Marina V., The American Journal of Economics and Sociology



E. LYNN TURGEON was a unique and iconoclastic figure in the field of economics. An important, if somewhat conventional, figure in the study of the Soviet economy in the 1950s, his views on the USSR evolved over time to become more and more distinctive and provocative. In retrospect, many of his arguments and forecasts have proven to be wrong, especially about the former Soviet Union and the economies of the former Soviet bloc. (1) At the same time, some of his most controversial and apparently shocking positions can now be seen as prophetic in the context of the extreme difficulties that many of the countries of the former Soviet bloc have experienced during their transition. Although Turgeon pinpointed difficulties in the Soviet system and foresaw its slowdown, he was also willing to point out certain positive aspects of the old system that few outside Soviet circles were willing to admit, He was not afraid to face what seemed to him to be the facts and to follow where those facts would lead him. This he did in the face of disapproval and sharp disagreement from his peers in the West.

Later in life, his writing reflected more his classical Keynesian roots. He argued against such pre-Keynesian policies as central bank autonomy, tight money, fiscal austerity, and social retrenchment. Instead, he supported bold Keynesian fiscal policy, for example, significant expansion of government spending on social programs, and the neutralization of monetary policy. While acknowledging the stimulating benefits of supply-side cuts (coined as "commercial Keynesianism" by Robert Lekachmen) and massive defense spending (military Keynesianism) in Germany and Japan in the 1930s, Turgeon considered these policy arrangements to be among the most socially regressive types of Keynesian policies. He adopted Joan Robinson's term "Bastard Keynesianism" to describe these supply-side cutting and military spending agendas. Instead, Turgeon preferred to think of himself as a "classical Keynesian," wedded to the fundamental truths of The General Theory of Employment Interest and Money (Keynes 1964). He believed that the u ltimate goal of economic policy was not growth for growth's sake, but full employment of human resources, environmentally sustainable economic development, more equitable distributions of income and wealth, and rising living standards for all (Turgeon 1996:73). Before going into greater depth on Turgeon's contributions to Sovietology and economics, it is important first to understand some of the earlier personal and professional influences on his career.


A Brief Biography

EDGAR LYNN TURGEON was born on August 26, 1920 in Mitchell, South Dakota. (2) In an unpublished memoir (Turgeon 1990), he claimed that growing up during the Great Depression on a small farm in the Midwest influenced his decision to study economics. Since good jobs were scarce for young men in the 1930s, he went to the University of California at Berkeley where he majored in economics before serving as a U.S. Navy supply officer in the Pacific during World War II. During his service he became aware of the waste and misery of war, and made a commitment "to do something, which might contribute to preventing another war ... assuming I survived" (Turgeon 1990:2-3). He anticipated that the next major conflict after World War II might be with the Soviet Union, and he began to study the Russian language. At the end of the war, with the aid of the GI. Bill, Turgeon decided to either pursue a law degree or a Ph.D. in economics. Not quite sure in which direction to go, he decided to visit the famous Keynesian economist Alvin Hansen at Harvard University. Turgeon was impressed with Hansen's prewar writings and felt he could talk frankly with him since he was a fellow South Dakotan (Turgeon 1990:3). After finding Hansen in the Harvard library wearing green eyeshades, Turgeon spoke with him for about a half-hour and was convinced to stay with economics and pursue a graduate degree.

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