The 2004 Veblen-Commons Award Recipient: Howard J. Sherman

By Pollin, Robert | Journal of Economic Issues, June 2004 | Go to article overview

The 2004 Veblen-Commons Award Recipient: Howard J. Sherman


Pollin, Robert, Journal of Economic Issues


It is a great privilege for me to be able to introduce this year's recipient of the Veblen-Commons Award: my colleague, comrade, and close friend, Professor Howard Sherman.

I first met Howard twenty-two years ago, almost to the day, at one of these Allied Social Science Association conferences, when he and his Economics Department colleague Roger Ransom interviewed me for a position at University of California-Riverside. Both of them were actually lying propped up on a big double bed in the hotel room while they fired questions at me. It was quite an auspicious introduction.

But of course I knew Howard by his work well before then. In fact, I initially heard about Howard from Paul Sweezy, the recipient of this same Veblen-Commons award only five years ago. Paul Sweezy was my professor in my first semester at the New School, where I took a course from him called "Reading and Using Marx's Capital."

We students were certainly learning how to read Marx's Capital from Sweezy. But what about using it? We had many concerns, but among them was a practical matter. We asked Sweezy, if we ever actually became teachers ourselves, how could we provide our students with an accessible and still accurate presentation of Marx's economic ideas that was also relevant for the present time? We knew there were stacks of textbooks that explained neoclassical economics. But we didn't know whether there was even one that explained Marxian economics while also providing a fair presentation of neoclassical alternatives.

Sweezy's answer to us was immediate: "You need to go read Hunt and Sherman," referring to the alternative introductory economics textbook Howard Sherman had co-authored with his then UC-Riverside colleague Kay Hunt. And even though we were mere first-year grad students, we did know enough to always take Paul Sweezy's advice seriously. We thus all went out to the Barnes and Noble bookstore on 18th Street and 5th Avenue and bought Hunt and Sherman. We then spent the rest of the semester devouring it alongside Capital.

But even if Paul hadn't told me about the Hunt and Sherman textbook, there is no doubt I would have encountered Howard's work in some other way soon. If you are an economist and a left dissident, somehow getting to Sherman's work was simply inevitable, and remains so to this day.

Howard's many textbooks are an important part of his canon because they have introduced hundreds of thousands, and perhaps even millions, of people to an alternative vision of how to think about economics, the economy, and out society. I was reminded of this even on my taxi ride from the airport to my hotel for this conference. I shared the taxi with another conference participant, but someone I hadn't previously met. When I told her about Howard's award, she informed me that she herself became a radical economist through having been assigned Hunt and Sherman as an undergraduate and that she assigned it for years to her own students.

And these textbooks--important though they are--are only one part of Howard's writings. Even more of Howard's creative energy was poured into his research work. This work has covered a breathtakingly wide range of topics--the causes of recessions, depressions, and mass unemployment under capitalism; the difficulties and challenges of establishing viable democratic planning systems under socialism; the down-to-earth realities of economic life in the United States, the Soviet Union, and elsewhere; and the theoretical traditions he drew upon to inform these empirical studies: Keynesianism, institutionalism, and, most especially, Marxism. Most recently, Howard along with Bill Dugger have made important contributions building important theoretical bridges between institutionalism and Marxism.

Despite the range of Howard's concerns, there is a central underlying theme to all of his work: to understand the sources of injustice, instability, and irrationality under capitalism and to think hard about how to build a truly democratic, egalitarian social order, in other words, the only type of society that deserves to be called "socialist. …

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