Bill Breit

by Don Boudreaux on August 26, 2011

in Civil Society

Sad news came today from my friend down at UVA, Prof. Ken Elzinga: Bill Breit died this morning after a lengthy illness.

Bill and Ken together wrote wonderful economic mysteries under the noms de plume “Marshall Jevons.“  Reading these three novels is a splendid way to learn some economics.

But Bill was more than just a writer of mystery novels: he was a superb economist, scholar, and teacher who served for many years on the economics faculty at UVA and then, for the past nearly 30 years, on the econ faculty at Trinity University in San Antonio.  Here’s Bill’s website.

Bill was also uproariously funny.  He was one of those people who made you laugh – deeply, healthily, and never for cheap or childish reasons – every time you were in his company.

I’m honored to have been in Bill’s company on several occasions, usually for dinners at annual meetings of the Southern Economic Association (although, alas, not recently).  I regret that wasn’t in his company even more frequently.

I’ll miss him.

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{ 17 comments }

Methinks1776 August 26, 2011 at 9:01 pm

I’m sorry your friend died, Don.

UVA is my alma mater, but I did not know Bill Breit and I didn’t know that Marshall Jevons was a collaboration. Work demands forced me to abandon reading my first Marshall Jevons mystery, but what I read of it was pretty good. If my creaky memory serves, Elzinga has a good sense of humour too (his syllabus is your first introduction). There’s little in life that a good sense of humour can’t ease.

Greg Webb August 27, 2011 at 12:11 am

It is a sad day to lose a good man like Bill Briet who had a sound understanding of economics and a good sense of humor.

indianajim August 27, 2011 at 9:02 am

Many who were econ grad students in the 70′s will remember the Readings book in micro that Briet edited with Hochman; given the accessibility of economics literature today via the internet, there is less reason to put such books out. But Briet’s book was big in the pre-net era. Looking at the link Don provided to his website, one finds an interesting assortment of awards, activities and publications spanning over four decades. I didn’t know him personally, but from his website and especially given Don’s comments, I wish I had.

rbd August 27, 2011 at 7:09 pm

It’s good to know universities down here in San Antonio employ some good economists. This leads me to ask the question: how can we as parents know if a particular economists at any particular school preaches what we here at the Cafe believe to be real economics? I don’t want my kids coming home with that Keynesian crap. Should I interview the professor?

indianajim August 27, 2011 at 10:41 pm

There are pockets of sanity. I think an easy, admittedly imperfect, litmus test would be to simply call the Chair of the Economics department of the university being considered and ask if anyone in the department teaches Austrian economics in any class. If the answer is “no” or in any way ambiguous, cross that university off your list of possibles.

Cyril Morong August 27, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I teach econ at San Antonio College. It is hard not to teach Keynes but I try very hard to present other views. If you click on my link you can see my blog “The Free Market Alternative”

I got my BA from the University of Chicago and I attended an IHS week long seminar in 1989

Cyril Morong August 27, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Another thing you can do is google the professor. Find out what papers and articles they have written. The school might have a link to their curriculum vitae and you can see where they got their Ph. D. and what papers they have written

Daniel Kuehn August 28, 2011 at 9:19 am

You should also rest assured that what gets presented as Keynesianism on this blog really isn’t what is taught in economics departments. I had a pretty standard education – some Keynesianism, but lots of non-Keynesian/RBC macro. I never got taught the “Keynesianism” that Don and Russ talk so much about here. I’m not sure where that version is taught. It’s mostly a libertarian boogeyman.

indianajim August 28, 2011 at 9:40 am

I think your assertion about vulgar Keynesianism’s non-existence in the hallowed halls of academe is partially true because purveyors of lots of standard macro models don’t realize or don’t confess the underlying folly of models where there is: ONE labor market where L is transacted, ONE type of capital (K), an aggregate demand/aggregate supply formulation determining P and Q that has AD unambiguously shifts right when G rises and/or when C falls. The fact that professors trained in Keynesian based swill are not transparent (honest) about the underlying follies they are presenting to their students does not exonerate them of their ignorance and/or silence about Austrian alternatives and insights. You Daniel have done something unusual in familiarizing yourself with Austrian alternatives; good for you. A discussion I had with a former grad school prof of mine (now Chair of that dept) gives me reason to say you are unusual: The former prof (now Chair) told me that he had had a call about whether his dept taught Austrian economics; he indicated to me that he really didn’t know what the caller was asking about. Austrian theory? No, his dept taught Classical theory. Ok, this is a sample of one, but this was the prof who taught me graduate macro in the 1980s who obviously hasn’t been scratching around in the bloggosphere like you have to see that there is an Austrian revolution underway.

Daniel Kuehn August 28, 2011 at 9:54 am

I didn’t say its non-existent, but I did say I certainly haven’t come across it. And that’s of course to say nothing of the moral baggage that’s loaded onto it – “statism”, “fatal conceits”, etc. here.

I agree that few familiarize themselves with the Austrian school, but it’s a relatively marginal school and I don’t see anything major lost in that decision. It’s enriching to learn about, to be sure. They would benefit from the experience. But they understand the opportunity cost associated with their time, and it’s not clear to me that their decision not to engage Austrians results in time poorly spent.

indianajim August 28, 2011 at 9:24 pm

If you believe what you just wrote, then I have clearly been wasting my time trying to tutor your sorry ass. It will not happen again.

Methinks1776 August 28, 2011 at 12:17 pm

I never got taught the “Keynesianism” that Don and Russ talk so much about here.

My husband and I did. UVa undergraduate macro was basically a study of Keynes. I kept my class notes (I’m nostalgic), so I’m sure I’m not “misremembering”. Same for friends of our generation who studied at Princeton, Penn, and…well, everywhere.

It’s funny you should think the Austrian school is a waste of time. I feel that way about my time percevarating over Keynes.

indianajim August 28, 2011 at 11:15 pm

Thanks for relaying your experiential evidence. My experience as an undergrad in 1976 at a lesser caliber school than yours was no different: Vulgar Keynesianism. Unfortunately the average Congressperson’s age is about 60, putting him/her in undergrad school in the era of exactly what Don and Russ write about: Vulgar Keynesianism. And the baby boomers, that huge cohort of influentials, were broadly indoctrinated in Keynesian folly. Don and Russ are doing a HUGE public service in jarring the prevailing Keynesian mindset, IMO.

Methinks1776 August 29, 2011 at 7:50 am

I agree.

Greg Webb August 28, 2011 at 8:17 pm

Daniel, you said, “I never got taught the “Keynesianism” that Don and Russ talk so much about here. I’m not sure where that version is taught.” It was, and probably still is, taught at most universities, though they do not directly call it Keynesianism. My macroeconomic courses were pretty much a waste of time, though it did help me to understand the high-sounding rhetoric of President Obama and the Democrat Party controlled Congress when they were approving legislation designed to reward their political cronies.

Cyril Morong August 27, 2011 at 10:56 pm

I forgot to mention, Bill Breit was a student at San Antonio College back in the early 1950s

Here is more information about him when San Antonio College named him an Outstanding Former Student

http://www.alamo.edu/sac/pr/NewRel6/outstand.htm

I did not know him very well at all but it is a great loss.

Here is his obituary

http://obit.porterloring.com/obitdisplay.html?id=965085

Cyril Morong August 27, 2011 at 11:01 pm

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