WENDELL C. GORDON
One of his closest friends
and a long-time colleague described Wendell Gordon as a "man of lost
causes." But a good cause, even if lost, is worth the fight. This
attitude of Wendells helps us to understand much of what he accomplished
For almost four decades
following his reinstatement, the weather must have seemed very calm in
comparison to the storm he had experienced earlier. Maybe his best friends
came to know that this man of principle was never content to leave well
enough alone; thus, smaller storms, at least, were inevitable.
Teaching and other
The economics department
was his department and he did not take his duties lightly.
First of all, he did not take his teaching lightly. A modern day department
chairman would be blessed to have a colleague like Wendell, who generated
Teaching Load Credits (TLCs) far in excess of what was required. In his
early years he taught freshman economics, international economics (undergraduate
and graduate), Latin American economic problems, and specialized courses
such as the one called "International Cartels."
He moved more and
more to graduate offerings in the middle of his forty-year teaching career.
He regularly taught a graduate level two-course sequence in international
economics as his main subject. His teaching appears to have been greatly
reduced in 1969. The explanation is that he took time off from his teaching
and research to prepare himself to teach a much-needed course not offered
by the department. He introduced his graduate course in production theory
in 1970 and it quickly became one of the best-attended classes in the
department. In 1973 he began teaching another course which he thought
was badly needed. This was an upper-level undergraduate course in institutional
economics. Old timers will recognize this course as one which generations
of good students had taken from Clarence Ayres. The retirement of Professor
Ayres in 1967 left a huge hole in the undergraduate curriculum of the
economics department. Partly because Wendell had been influenced by Ayres
and partly just because he was a good citizen, Wendell Gordon acted to
plug this hole, and he struggled mightily to maintain the institutionalist
tradition at Texas even after his own retirement. After all, the institutionalists
had been at the forefront of the fight for academic freedom; and what
course could symbolize this effort more than a course in institutional
economics in a department that was growing more and more conventional?
Despite all of the
aforementioned activities he was a tireless supervisor of economics dissertations.
His first student was Bill Glade who finished in 1955. Pat Blair was his
fourth. Both went on to notable professorial careers at the University
of Texas. In all, Professor Gordon supervised thirty-six dissertations.
Add to that twenty-five MA theses supervised. No one in the economics
department up to this time can claim such a high workload. More than two-thirds
of his doctoral students found academic positions at universities and
colleges throughout the country. He truly was the workhorse of the department
and never complained about it. It was his department.
Another activity in
which he was heavily engaged was at the national level. Wendell was an
original member and very active in the Association for Evolutionary Economics
(AFEE), an association of heterodox economic thinkers who are interested
in economic policy and stress the evolutionary aspects of economic behavior.
He served on the Editorial Board for The Journal of Economic Issues
when this publication of AFEE first came to press in 1967 and was
president of the association in 1983. He received the Associations
highest honor, the Veblen-Commons Award, in 1985. Anne Mayhew, current
editor of The Journal of Economic Issues, noted that Wendell "served
as advisor, friend and kind critic to editors and officers on many occasions,
and above all contributed intellectual substance to what he understood
to be the primary goal of AFEE and the JEI -- the understanding
of real economies and real problems in aid of pragmatic improvement of
the condition of mankind."
He was not always
happy. One disappointment in his life, as he was approaching retirement,
was the failure of the economics department to hire an institutionalist
despite his own relentless effort. His effort included more than the arguing
and pleading with many professors who did not like the way things were
going. He did something quite unusual: he put his money where his mouth
was. He contributed $125,000 after he retired for a graduate student scholarship,
characteristically not named the Wendell Gordon Scholarship, but, rather
the Scholarship in Institutional Economics. It has served a number of
graduate students well.
Although he had a
full slate of teaching, dissertation supervision and departmental service,
Wendell devoted plenty of time to research. As mentioned earlier, his
dissertation, Expropriation of Foreign Property in Mexico, was
published in 1941. Expropriation, he argued, was a legitimate act by the
Mexican government because the oil companies had been operating in a manner
that violated the Mexican constitution. This controversial book received
a lot of attention. The Economy of Latin America, published in
1950, was a pioneering work in Latin American development. It established
Gordons international reputation in a field of study that has become
increasingly important over time. His well-known textbook, International
Trade, People and Ideas, was published in 1958 and translated into
Japanese in 1965. This book was an early attempt to integrate economics
and politics in international economic theory, a move quite in vogue today.
His Latin American book was updated in 1965 and published as The Political
Economy of Latin America.
After he took
the lead in teaching institutional economics at the University of Texas,
he devoted the remaining part of his life to research in that subject.
Economics from an Institutional Point of View was written for his
students in 1973, and it was published by The University of Texas Press
in 1980 as Institutional Economics: the Changing System. His last
two books were published after he retired from the university. With John
Adams he wrote Economics as Social Science: An Evolutionary Approach
(1989). His last book, The United Nations at the Crossroads of
Reform, was published in 1994. Because these two books were the culmination
of Gordons thinking over a long period of scholarship, we comment
briefly on each of them.
Economics (as a social
science) cannot properly be separated from learning in other fields of
the social and natural sciences as, Gordon thought, modern orthodox economics
has attempted to separate itself. In his words economics must be evolutionary
(dynamic) and holistic if it is to be a useful tool for improving social
welfare. Abstraction is an identifying feature of modern economics, but
economic activity takes place in societies in which institutional arrangements
differ and in most instances serve as impediments to economic progress.
Technology is the dynamic force in progress. According to the Veblen/Ayres
approach to institutional economics, traditional habits of thought (institutions)
could be major impediments to economic development (improvement in social
welfare). Yet, one might acknowledge that technology is the engine of
progress without thinking that all institutions are impediments to progress.
Have not some institutions of modern society been useful in promoting
social welfare and, thereby, passed the test of instrumental valuation?
Gordons answer was "yes," as he approved of social security,
Medicare, Medicaid, public education, and institutions to ban nuclear
war (or any kind of war). Any institution that promotes the democratic
process must be judged to be useful and valued just as technology is valued
as the principal sustaining force in the "life process." A nation
without social safety nets and with a highly unequal income distribution
is unlikely to remain democratic and progressive. A social welfare function
that places value on these arrangements created through the democratic
process is to be desired and, Gordon would have stated, if that is making
a value judgment considered an anathema to some modern theorists
then so be it.
In Gordons view,
one modern institution that deserves much more support than it gets is
the United Nations. Gordon was motivated to write The United Nations
at the Crossroads of Reform probably because of his fear of the consequences
of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Many social problems exist. Some
are best dealt with at local levels; others, at national levels. Many
problems, however, are world problems and cannot be handled adequately
at levels lower than a world organization, such as the United Nations.
The institution of national sovereignty stands in the way of resolution
of such problems. Under the reforms proposed by Gordon, the U.N. would
be involved not only in the regulation of nuclear energy but also in problems
associated with natural disasters, spread of disease, migration, use of
the oceans and atmosphere, and more. It would have authority to collect
revenues to support these activities. That this book did not receive the
attention he had hoped for was a cause of disappointment to Wendell Gordon.
It was his last lost cause.
What kind of man was
Wendell Gordon? This question was put to some of his colleagues and former
When Steve McDonald
joined the faculty in the Department of Economics he shared a "one
man" office with Wendell. The lack of space and privacy with students
"made for mutual annoyance." Steve found out quickly that Wendell
was "a very thoughtful and considerate man. I might have thoughtlessly
annoyed him at times but he never annoyed me." Steve observed that
Wendells "gentlemanly behavior extended to his students
he listened to them with patience and instructed them with quiet authority."
Hans Jensen remembers
Gordons lectures as "exceedingly well organized and forcefully
delivered." Gordon was more than a "superb" dissertation
supervisor. Hans sent Gordon a draft of his dissertation from Alaska.
After correcting and approving it he hired a typist to produce the manuscript,
picked up the copies, and distributed them to members of the committee.
No wonder Hans could write, "His industriousness was legendary. His
integrity and honesty were impeccable. He was a modest person. In spite
of the fact that he hesitated to trumpet his own values in print and in
the classroom, his work is undergirded and fortified by a never ending
advocacy of freedom, decency, civility and peace."
A former student and
co-author, John Adams, called Wendell impish (he was!) and an "indifferent
writer." John commented that Gordon never "assumed" anything;
he just "alleged." One might speculate that Gordon was so annoyed
by unrealistic assumptions of much economic theorizing he wanted to make
it clear that he belonged to a different school. Adams commented, too,
on Wendells generosity, decency, and "student friendliness."
Milton Lower, an Ayres
student at the University of Texas, commented that although Ayres may
have provided inspiration, "it was Wendell Gordon who for many students
provided a disciplined grounding in the specific issues of economic development,
international economics and Latin American economics."
Eleven of his students
presented original papers at a double session of the March 1995 Eastern
Economics Association. These papers were to be published in a book dedicated
to their mentor. To assure, perhaps, that this book would not be called
a Festschrift, Wendell wrote an article for inclusion! Pretty typical
of this man. [The book was edited by John Adams and Anthony Scaperlanda,
The Institutional Economics of the International Economy, Kluwer,
Many of his students
and friends at the retirement home where he (typically) served on committees,
visited the sick and was generally just very useful, will be disappointed
that they were not called upon to comment. He touched many lives. Most
who knew this scholarly, shy, unassuming, generous man of understatement
will also recognize a certain toughness, too. To his death on Christmas
Day, 1997, there was no surrender in him.
This Memorial Resolution
was prepared by a special committee consisting of professors Douglas C.
Dacy (Chair), Stephen L. McDonald, Daniel C. Morgan, and Niles M. Hansen.
Expropriation of Foreign-Owned
Property in Mexico, Washington: American
Council on Public Affairs, 1941.
The Economy of Latin America, New
York: Columbia University Press, 1950.
International Trade: Goods, People
and Ideas, New York: Knopf, 1958.
The Political Economy of Latin America,
New York: Columbia University Press, 1965.
Economics from an Institutional Viewpoint,
Austin: University Stores (University Co-
Institutional Economics: the Changing
System, Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1980.
Economics as Social Science: An Evolutionary
Approach, (with John Adams), Riverdale, Maryland: The Riverdale Company,
The United Nations at the Crossroad
of Reform, Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1994.
Articles and Other Contributions
"Freedom and Reform in Urban and
Industrializing Latin America," in Frederick B. Pike (ed.), Freedom
and Reform in Latin America, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame
Press, 1959, 177-202.
"Economic Relations between the United
States and Latin America," in Cultural Bases of Hemispheric Understanding,
Austin: Institute of Latin American Studies, 1942, 89-94.
"Access to Raw Materials and the
Balance of Trade," The Antioch Review, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Spring
"International Trade, World Barriers
and World Peace," Southwestern Social Science Quarterly, Vol.
29, No. 3 (December 1948), 221-226.
"The Foot-and-Mouth Disease in Mexico,"
Inter-American Economic Affairs, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Winter 1949), 41-59.
The Teaching of Latin American Economic
Problems at the University of Texas," Inter- American Economic
Affairs, Vol. 3, No. 4 (Spring 1950), 57-68.
"Simple Underconsumption," Southwestern
Social Science Quarterly, Vol. 31 (June 1950), 243-257.
"From Reciprocal Trade to Point IV,"
Inter-American Economic Affairs, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Spring 1951), 20-29.
"Economics: Latin America (Except
Argentina, Brazil and Mexico)," Handbook of Latin American Studies:
1949-52, Gainesville: University of Florida Press.
"Economy" Section of articles
on Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua
and Peru) in Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago, London, Toronto:
Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1957 edition.
"International Investments: Process
and Motive," in Paul D. Zook (ed.), Economic Development and International
Trade: A Perspective, Dallas: Southern Methodist University
Press, 1959, 59-80.
"Motivation of Foreign Investments,"
Inter-American Economic Affairs, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Spring 1960).
"Mercado Comun Latinoaericano,"
Ecos de America Latina, Buenos Aires: November 1960.
"The Contribution of Foreign Investments:
A Case Study of United States Foreign Investment History," Inter-American
Economic Affairs, Vol. 14 (1961), 35-56.
"Foreign Investments," Business
Review, University of Houston, Vol. 9 (1962), 1-69.
"The Criterion for an Adverse Balance
of Payments," American Economic Review, Vol. 53, No. 1 (March
"The Criterion for an Adverse Balance
of Payments: Reply," American Economic Review,
Vol. 9, No. 3 (September 1963), 1101-1103.
"Foreign Aid," Inter-American
Economic Affairs, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Spring 1963), 21-30.
"The Fostering of Latin American
Agriculture," in Subcommittee on International Finance, Inter-American
Development Banks Role in Agriculture Development, Washington:
Government Printing Office, 1966, 123-134.
"Orthodox Economics and Institutionalized
Behavior," in Carey C. Thompson (ed.), Institutional Adjustment,
Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1967, 41-68.
"Has Foreign Aid Been Overstated?"
Inter-American Economic Affairs, Vol. 21 (1968), 3-18.
"Clarence Ayres: Institutional Economist,"
Journal of Thought, Vol. 5 (1970), 168.
"Institutionalized Consumption Patterns
in Underdeveloped Countries," Journal of Economic Issues,
Vol. 7 (June 1973), 257-287.
"A Case for Less Restrictive Border
Policy," Social Science Quarterly, Vol. 56 (December 1975),
"International Price Relations,"
Inter-American Economic Affairs, Vol. 29, No. 4 (Spring 1976),
"The Problem of Illegal Aliens,"
Texas Business Review, Vol. 51 (August 1977), 167- 170.
"Neoinstitutionalism and the Economics
of Dissent," in John Adams (ed.), Institutional Economics: Contributions
to the Development of Holistic Economics, (Essays in Honor of Allan
Gruchy), Boston/The Hague: Martinus Nihjoff, 1980, 33-44.
"What of the Friedmans Free
to Choose?" Journal of Economic Issues, Vol. 16, No. 1
(March 1982), 301-307.
"Institutionalism and Dependency,"
Journal of Economic Issues, Vol. 16, No. 2 (June 1982), 569-575.
"Welfare Maxima in Economics,"
Journal of Economic Issues, Vol. 17, No. 1 (March 1983), 1-16.
"A World of Nations and the United
Nations," in John Adams and Anthony Scaperlanda (eds.), The Institutional
Economics of the International Economy, Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers,