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John Barkley Rosser, Jr. (1948-2023)

Summary:
Barkley Rosser's professional contributions include the study of complex dynamics in economic models, development and transition economics, observations on the sociology of economists, and editorship. I knew him through Internet discussions and his editing of one of my articles. Peter Dorman has an obituary. Rosser's major book on complexity economics went through two editions. I am not sure I ever made it totally through his book. I think of him as building on, in the Post-Keynesian tradition, some work by Nicholas Kaldor and Richard Goodwin, for example. Plenty of work on mainstream models can also display complex dynamics. I find particularly intriguing Rosser's work connecting the reswitching of techniques to a cusp catastrophe. The one aspect of his comparison and contrast of

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Barkley Rosser's professional contributions include the study of complex dynamics in economic models, development and transition economics, observations on the sociology of economists, and editorship. I knew him through Internet discussions and his editing of one of my articles. Peter Dorman has an obituary.

Rosser's major book on complexity economics went through two editions. I am not sure I ever made it totally through his book. I think of him as building on, in the Post-Keynesian tradition, some work by Nicholas Kaldor and Richard Goodwin, for example. Plenty of work on mainstream models can also display complex dynamics. I find particularly intriguing Rosser's work connecting the reswitching of techniques to a cusp catastrophe. The one aspect of his comparison and contrast of complex dynamics with dialectics I recall is that it is a principle of dialects is that a sufficient quantitative change can be qualitative. This make sense to me in terms of bifurcations of dynamical systems and the exploration of perturbations in parameter spaces.

Rosser also looked at the sociology of economics. With David Colander and Richard Holt, he distinguished between the dichotomy between mainstream and non-mainstream economics and the dichotomy between orthodox and (traditional) heterodox economics. Traditional heterodox economics is a grouping of schools of thought such as Austrian, (old) institutional, Post-Keynesian and Marxist economics. This way of thinking ends up with the possibility of mainstream heterodox economics, which might include behavioral economics, complexity economics, agent-based economics, and complexity economics. These three also argued that cutting edge mainstream economics is more pluralist and open than traditional economists say. I hadn't thought this before, but maybe Rosser was open to this because he personnally straddled Post-Keynesian and mainstream economics.

Rosser was a professor at James Madison University. He was a long-time and successful editor of the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization (JEBO). He stepped down as editor-in-chief in 2010 and later founded a new journal, the Review Of Behavioral Economics (ROBE).

I want to mention a couple of times his personal life intersected with history. His father, John Barkley Rosser, Sr. was a great logician, one of the first to appreciate and extend Kurt Gödel's incompleteness theorem. He showed that Gödel could dispense with omega inconsistency and stick with just inconsistency in the statement in the theorem. Apparently his father was an able academic administrator. In 1970, he was director of the Army Mathematical Research Center (AMRC), in Sterling Hall at the University of Wisconsin. I believe that Rosser, the son, was opposed to the Vietnam world. On 24 August 1970, some radicals blew up Sterling Hall, killing one. This resulted in some tension between father and son at the time, as he has blogged about. Yeah, if some of your son's crowd blow up your office, you might have an issue.

Rosser married Marina Rostislavovna Vcherashnaya. His marriage involved overcoming the refusal of the Soviet Union to live up to the Helsinki accords. I believe that this was an important case.

References
  • David Colander, Richard P. F. Holt, and J. Barkley Rosser. 2004a. The changing face of mainstream economics. Review of Political Economy. 16(4):
  • David Colander, Richard P. F. Holt, and J. Barkley Rosser. 2004b. The Changing Face of Economics: Conversations with Cutting Edge Economists. University of Michigan Press.
  • John Guckenheimer and Philip Holmes. 1983. Nonlinear Oscillations, Dynamical Systems, and Bifurcations of Vector Fields. Spring-Verlag.
  • Yura A. Kuznetsov. 1998. Elements of Applied Bifurcation Theory, second edition. Springer.
  • J. Barkley Rosser. 1983. Reswitching as a cusp catastrophe. Journal of Economic Theory. 31(1): 182-193.
  • J. Barkley Rosser. 2000. Aspects of dialectics and non-linear dynamics. Cambridge Journal of Economics. 24(3): 311-324.
  • J. Barkley Rosser. 2013. From Catastrophe to Chaos: A General Theory of Economic Discontinuities 2nd editions. Springer.
  • Peter Schmitt and Doug Erickson. 2020. The blast that changed everything. On Wisconsin

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