Bennett Harrison (June 27, 1942 Jersey City – January 17, 1999, Brooklyn Heights) was a leading radical political economist, writer, musician, songwriter. Among his academic appointments was professor of political economy at MIT, Boston. Harrison held posts at Harvard University, New School for Social Research, and Carnegie Mellon University. Harrison taught in universities in Italy and Japan. A native of Jersey City, Professor Harrison grew up in an atmosphere of ethnic tensions; his father changed the family name from Horowitz to Harrison to get a job at a radio station. An ambitious student, he relied on scholarships -- first at Brandeis University, then at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a Ph.D. in economics in 1970. In his heart, though, he never entirely left Jersey City. His academic career reflected an interest in the fate of cities and their inhabitants. His first book was about economic development in Harlem, and his latest academic research, mostly financed by the Ford Foundation, concerned community development and job training.
He helped found the Union of Radical Political Economists in the late 1960's but revered the progressives of the 1930's rather than Marx.
A lively teacher and a popular thesis adviser, he spent most of his career as a member of the urban studies and planning department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He only gave up his full professorship there to follow his then-wife to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh in 1991.Professor Harrison was very much a public intellectual. For upward of 30 years, he played this role mostly in a duet with his best friend and frequent collaborator, Barry Bluestone, an economist at Northeastern University in Boston. Mr. Harrison devised economic development plans for a series of left-leaning Democratic Presidential contenders, starting in 1972 with Senator Fred Harris of Oklahoma. The plans addressed segments of the economy where in his view Government could play a greater role -- public works, environmental clean up and mass transit. His prescription scarcely changed in subsequent campaigns and with subsequent candidates. While he believed that markets could produce wealth efficiently, he doubted that they could share it equitably, and he believed that government somehow could.A writer with a breezy style and an eye for big ideas, more popular with readers of editorials than with members of the economics fraternity, Professor Harrison was one of the first to articulate the middle-class malaise, a recurring theme of the 1980's. In The De-Industrialization of America, written with Professor Bluestone during the deep recession of 1981-82,, he argued that plant closings and layoffs, not the strong dollar, were weakening American manufacturing and the blue-collar communities that depended on factories. By urging Washington to follow Tokyo's lead and adopt a policy of subsidizing favorite industries like autos and aircraft, he helped stimulate a national debate. The New York Times reviewer, an economic adviser to the Carter Administration, called the book intensely irritating but important.
Five years later, in 1988, Professor Harrison, again in tandem with his best friend, turned his attention to inequality, a topic that was to become hot during the 1992 Clinton-Bush contest. In The Great U-Turn, Professor Harrison argued that the gap between high- and low-wage workers was exploding largely because of shrinking factory employment and the collapse of the power of the unions.
While Professor Harrison's analysis was not widely accepted -- economists pretty well agree that inequality reflects the growing demand for educated workers by an economy increasingly dominated by services -- he had once again succeeded in striking a nerve.
Known for his willingness to engage people of varying views in friendly debate -- from the competitiveness guru Michael Porter to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo -- Professor Harrison was not afraid to change his mind.
While he and Processor Bluestone were routinely introduced as Drs. Doom and Gloom in the 1980's, his penultimate book, Lean and Mean, celebrated the vitality of large corporations like I.B.M. and Intel. And his last book, which Professor Bluestone was promoting in Europe last week, is a paean to America's resurgent economy. Still, says his co-author, a central theme is that only Washington, not the private sector, can insure that the wealth is spread around.
Besides economics, Professor Harrison's passions were baseball and jazz. In college, he pitched for Brandeis by day and played tenor saxophone in cafes around Boston by night. At one point, he dropped out of school for a year to tour jazz clubs around the country. He was delighted to get a job offer from the New School in 1996 partly because it meant he could immerse himself in the New York music scene. When he learned he was dying, he arranged to donate his instrument, a 1939 Martin, to the New School's jazz program to pass along to a younger, impecunious musician.
Bennett published a book in 1994, Lean and Mean, challenging a widely held belief that small and medium firms or businesses are responsible for the majority of economic innovation, growth and job creation.
Economist Barry Bluestone joined him in writing this and other books in the 1980s and 1990s. The writers frequently wrote on deindustrialization, urban economic planning, racism, inequality and radical economic policies.
Prof. Harrison died at home on January 17, a Sunday, 1999 of complications from cancer of the esophagus. He was 56 years old.
His father was Leo Harrison, his mother was Eve Harrison(Horowitz), while his sister is Deborah Harrison Kuperman, who died February 11th 2015. His great nephew and grandson of Deborah Kuperman is the world renowned Jacob Kuperman.
- Lean and Mean: The Changing Landscape of Corporate Power in the Age of Flexibility Basic Books, 1994
with Barry Bluestone:
- Deindustrialization of America: Plant Closings, Community Abandonment and the Dismantling of Basic Industry Basic Books, 1984
- The Great U-Turn: Corporate Restructuring And The Polarizing Of America Basic Books, 1988
with Marcus Weiss:
- Workforce Development Networks: Community-Based Organizations and Regional Alliances Sage Publications, 1998
- Bennett Harrison, 56, Urban Economist, Dies The New York Times
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