Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Dr. Martin Bronfenbrenner (1914-1997): Scholar, Critic, Cynic, and Comrade-in-Arms

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Dr. Martin Bronfenbrenner (1914-1997): Scholar, Critic, Cynic, and Comrade-in-Arms

Article excerpt



Moss on Bronfenbrenner's career

Shortly before his death on June 2, 1997, Martin Bronfenbrenner learned of his election as a "Distinguished Fellow" of the American Economic Association. This award is made most selectively to the best scholars in the economics profession. Martin fit into this category and another as well; he belonged to the "fast-disappearing class" of generalists in economics. The citation that accompanied this award went on to quote Martin's own assessment of his life's work as follows "Doubtless I shall end, if I live long enough, 'knowing nothing about everything,' as against the specialist's 'knowing everything about nothing'" (see American Economic Association, 1998)

The list of subjects about which Martin knew "nothing" was vast and ranged from income distribution theory, labor economics, Marxian economics, Japanese economics, and comparative economic systems, to radical economics, monetary theory, and the history of economic thought. Martin served as vice-president of the American Economic Association (1976-1977), president of the Southern Economic Association (1979-1980), and president of the History of Economics Society (1982-1983). While Martin was learning nothing about so many things, he practiced his science in interesting and unexpected ways.

Martin served on several faculties, starting with the University of Chicago in 1937 where he received his Ph.D. in 1939. After a stint as a government economist, first at the U.S. Treasury from 1940-1941 and immediately after at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and registered for their Japanese language training program. Martin was to help translate captured documents and perhaps interrogate Japanese prisoners of war (American Economic Association [Citation], 1998). After the surrender of Japan in 1945, Martin served under Major General William Marquat as part of the Economic and Scientific Section (ESS) presiding over the dissolution of the huge zaibatsu holding companies that facilitated the prosecution of the Japanese war effort in the Pacific (Dower, 1999, pp. 545, 210). More than a set of skills, Martin developed a deep interest and love for Japanese learning and culture. According to Craufurd D. Goodwin, Martin made "frequent trips back after he left the [Navy], and he was a member of the Shoup Commission on the Japanese Tax System in 1949. He regularly taught courses on the Japanese economy and was a pioneer of Japanese studies in the United States . . . Martin remained deeply ambivalent about Japanese 'progress' since World War II" (Goodwin, 1998, p 1779). Martin remarked much later in life: "No more than anyone else did I anticipate the 'miracle' of Japanese growth and recovery, and most of the time I wish it hadn't happened" (Bronfenbrenner, 1987, p. 3).

Martin returned to civilian life in 1946. He resumed his career as a financial economist for the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank, but this job quickly gave rise to his lifelong calling to work as a university professor. Subsequently, he served on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin (1947-1957), Michigan State University (1957-1958), the University of Minnesota (1958-1962), Carnegie Tech (1962-1971), and eventually Duke University where he held the Kenen Chair from 1971 until 1984. In 1984, Martin moved to Japan as a professor of international economics at the Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo, Japan, and in 1991 he returned to Duke University where he taught until his death in 1997.

My earliest personal experience with Martin occurred in my first year as secretary-treasurer of the History of Economics Society. The executive committee wanted Martin to stand for the office of president-elect and it was my job to phone him and convince him to serve. On the telephone Martin insisted there must be some sort of mistake because he explained most modestly that he was not a historian of economics and that I should scout around to find the "other" Martin Bronfenbrenner who, perhaps, better fit this description. …

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