In Memorium: Herschel Grossman

Herschel Grossman

3/6/1939 - 10/9/2004
Professor of Economics at Brown University

Herschel Grossman, professor of economics at Brown University, died suddenly on October 9, 2004 in Marseilles, France, where he was attending an academic conference. He was 65 years old. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Grossman grew up in Philadelphia, where he attended Central High School. After receiving his B.A. from the University of Virginia, B. Phil from Oxford, and Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University, Grossman joined Brown’s faculty in 1964. He was appointed Merton P. Stultz Professor in the Social Sciences in 1980, and served as department chair from 1982-1985 and 1986-1991.

Much of Grossman’s early academic work was in the area of Keynesian macroeconomics, specifically an attempt to understand the process through which monetary policy, as carried out by central banks like the Federal Reserve, affects such economic variables as unemployment and the level of output. His model of “disequilibrium macroeconomics,” developed jointly with Robert Barro provided a rigorous analytic foundation for understanding how the failure of prices and wages to adjust in a manner that equalized supply and demand could lead to diverse phenomena such as unemployment, inflation, and the shortages of goods that plagued socialist economies. The work, summarized in their 1976 book Money, Employment, and Inflation (Cambidge University Press) was widely influential on a generation of economists.

In subsequent work, Grossman turned away from the question of why particular policies affect the economy to ask how policy makers decide what policies to follow. One of his most fruitful observations was that the degree to which a policy maker is willing to make short-run sacrifices in order to reap long-run benefits depends on how long the policy maker expects to remain in power. This observation led him to begin studying what determined how long rulers – either individual strong-men or ruling elites – are able to stay in power.

In his most recent research, Grossman had been studying “appropriative conflict,” that is, struggles between individuals or groups over the definition of property rights. Such conflict, he pointed out, has always been as much a part of economic interaction as the buying and selling in markets that economists traditionally study. Grossman’s analyses in this area extended to cover conflicts between states, between governments and insurgents, and between thieves and property-owners, as well as such non-traditional economic activities as banditry, extortion, and kidnapping.

Grossman was a Guggenheim Fellow and a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation. He served on the editorial boards of several journals, including the American Economic Review, The Journal of Monetary Economics, The European Journal of Political Economy, and Economics of Governance, and was a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. At Brown he was the academic liaison for the football team and also participated in the recruiting of student athletes. His interests included gardening and art and architecture.

He is survived by his beloved wife, Suzanne, daughter Rebecca Gruber, Arlington, MA son, Andrew Grossman, Seekonk, MA, and grandson Samuel M. Thomas Gruber. He will be missed dearly by Donna Goldman, Gary Goldman and Nancy Friedman, his wife’s children and her four grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Herschel Grossman Fund, Brown University Dept. of Economics, Providence, RI 02912 to support graduate students and lectures in Grossman’s areas of interest, or to the Herschel Grossman Fund, The Rhode Island Foundation, 1 Union Station, Providence, RI 02903.