Development Economist Gerald M. Meier Remembered

A leading figure in the evolution of development economics who authored books on the subject well into his eighties, Gerald M. Meier has died.

June 23, 2011

A leading figure in the evolution of development economics who authored books on the subject well into his eighties, Gerald M. Meier, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of International Economics and Policy Analysis, Emeritus, at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, died from complications of a malignant brain tumor at his home on the Stanford campus on June 21. He was 88.

Meier’s 1964 text, Leading Issues in Economic Development, now in its eighth edition, has been translated to seven languages and is taught in classrooms around the globe. Well known for his good humor and masterful tan, Meier introduced one of the first economic development courses in the MBA world, and was credited with inspiring generations of students to study the economies of less-developed countries.

Meier taught Stanford business and economics students from 1962 until 2005, long after his formal retirement in 1992. Students praised him for his Socratic teaching method and his ability to stay in contact with them decades after graduation. Fond of the beach, health food, and reggae music, Meier, a Rhodes Scholar, taught at Oxford, Williams, Wesleyan, and Yale before being recruited to Stanford GSB by then-Dean Ernie Arbuckle, who was building the school into an intellectual powerhouse.

“Gerry Meier was a major contributor to the field of development economics with a worldwide reputation,” said colleague George G.C. Parker, Dean Witter Distinguished Professor of Finance, Emeritus. “His arrival on the faculty strengthened our international economics curriculum in a major way. Professor Meier was widely traveled and was among the most in-demand leaders of student study trips to the developing world. His enthusiasm for all things international made him a role model for international scholars at the school.”

“An economist is both a trustee of the poor and a guardian of rationality,” Meier wrote. But the distance between the two remained a chief concern for him. “As trustee for the poor, the economist respects the values of altruism and economic justice. As guardian of rationality, the economist respects self-interest and efficiency. But does not the future course of development depend in large part on the capacity to combine the seemingly incompatible values of the trustee and the guardian? Can the professional developer combine a warm heart with a cool head?”

Meier authored more than 34 books, and he helped to introduce the field of development economics to U.S. colleges and universities. He lectured frequently at universities in Latin America, Asia, and Western and Eastern Europe. As a consultant to the World Bank, he served on three Bank missions to China.

“Gerry Meier’s extensive knowledge of the field and his deep interest in the human aspect of development were evident, and made a huge impression on me, said Dani Rodrik, professor of international political economy at Harvard… His book, Leading Issues in Economic Development, has been the companion of a generation of undergraduates getting their first exposure to the field. It is a masterful book that will not be easily replaced.”

“When my roommates (at Wesleyan University) told me they were taking a seminar from some young assistant professor hot shot on growth and development, I thought I’d join them,” recalled Jeffrey Williamson, now economics professor at Harvard who then wanted to study art, math, and architecture. “So, in the fall of 1956, I joined all the economics majors in Gerry’s class. One class meeting, and so much for architecture. It’s been economics ever since. When I taught economic development at the University of Wisconsin (1963-1983), I used Gerry’s Leading Issues in Economic Development.”

Meier also served as a consultant to Stanford Research Institute, National Science Foundation, Emergency Committee for Trade, Brookings Institution, United States AID, Oxford University Press, Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, Overseas Development Council, Overseas Development Institute, International Center for Economic Growth, and Overseas Development Administration (U.K.).

In 2001, Meier co-edited with Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz, then chief economist at the World Bank, a collection of essays by 35 leading development economists, Frontiers of Economic Development: The Future in Perspective (Oxford University Press and The World Bank).

Born in Tacoma, Wash., in 1923, Meier graduated from Reed College in 1947, became a Rhodes Scholar in 1948, studied economics at Oxford, and received a PhD in that field from Harvard in 1953. In 1954 he married Gretl Slote, who survives him. He is also survived by their four sons: David E. Meier, of Boston, Mass.; Daniel R. Meier, of Berkeley, Calif.; Jeremy Meier, of Sacramento, Calif.; and Andrew Meier, of Brooklyn, N.Y., and six grandchildren.

Diagnosed with a brain tumor in January 2003, Meier underwent surgery and extensive treatment. He was able to continue to work, including editing his final book, and travel.

In his book Emerging from Poverty: The Economics That Really Matters, Meier wrote: “We worry in this book about what can realistically be done to lessen the pain of poverty still suffered daily by two-thirds of humanity. Two centuries after the industrial revolution, only a few countries have become rich, while more than 100 nations are poor.” In the 1984 volume, he wrote of the “necessary improvements in development policy” that “still await more attention by economists.”

“The underdevelopment of economics itself,” he contended, “must be overcome if the disappointments are to be overcome.”

Plans for a memorial service are pending. The Gerald M. Meier Book Award, an annual prize to honor excellence in undergraduate economics, has been established at Reed College and University College at Oxford University. Similar awards are being created by the family at Stanford University, and Wesleyan University. Donations may be made to the funds through the family at 774 Santa Ynez, Stanford, Calif. 94305.

Memories of Gerry

The same week that I received the GSB News of Professor Gerald M. Meier’s death, I learned of the passing of Professor Fazlollah Akbari of IRAN, one of Gerry’s first outstanding students at SGSB. I thought some former students of Gerry or other Stanfordites might be interested to learn how it came to be that Gerry was recruited to Stanford and some examples of the very significant impact he had on business education and on actual economic development world wide, most especially in developing nations. So here goes:

In 1960, Dean Ernie Arbuckle persuaded the Ford Foundation to grant SGSB a substantial fund to establish a center for bringing to the School young faculty from developing nations to study a variety of approaches to researching and teaching business administration, as well as to interact with some local managers of Northern California businesses. Thus was born the International Center for the Advancement of Management Education (ICAME). The faculty was drawn both from Stanford and other leading schools of business administration throughout the U.S. Ernie recruited and appointed Professor Ezra Solomon of the University of Chicago as the first Director of ICAME. Interestingly, Ezra himself had come to this country as a Ford Foundation Fellow from Burma many years earlier.

During 1960-1961, an ICAME Center building was constructed, including a discussion style classroom, library, lounge, offices and related facilities. Also, Ezra traveled Latin America and Africa; his Associate Director traveled the Middle East and the Far East developing world countries, both to establish relationships with schools of business, administrative staff colleges and universities, so that each year a young professor from the same institution would travel to Stanford to study a different functional business field under an American faculty noted in that discipline. The returning Fellows were encouraged to join together and, with their school’s administration, make appropriate changes in curricula, teaching approaches and interactions with local business. The exceptions to the annual ICAME faculty rotation were Gerry Meier and Ezra Solomon.

The first year’s subjects were Financial Management and Control; the second were Marketing and Distribution; and so on. Enclosed is a copy of the Closing Session of that first year’s program, including a listing of the Participating Fellows of that first ICAME group. As noted in the program, Professor Fazlollah Akbari, was Chairman of the 1962-63 ICAME Fellows. He returned to Iran to teach Accounting; subsequently he became the Vice Minister of Higher Education for Iran. In 1987-8 he found it necessary to leave Iran and returned to the Stanford campus for about a year to do research and write. He spent 20 years as the leader of a group of academicians creating the first Farsi accounting/management terminology dictionary. Gerry Meier was his inspiration.

You already know of Professor Jose Maria Tejero Garcia, who came to Stanford as a faculty member from the University of Caracas, Venezuela; subsequently, he returned to his homeland, Spain to teach, research and write, especially about Development Economics, inspired by Professor Meier. Another ICAIVIE Fellow, Professor Jaime del Carmen Laya, remained on campus to earn his PhD at Stanford before returning to teach at the University of the Philippines; subsequently, he became Chairman of the Central Bank of the Philippines. Subroto, Professor of Accounting at University of Indonesia, returned to teach initially; then successively, he became Minister of Trade, Oil Minister for Indonesia; and, subsequently for several years, he was Chairman of OPEC.

Several others also held prestigious positions of administration in their country’s governments or at one of its universities; a few of the Fellows did not return to their native lands, but stayed in this country or migrated to Canada.

One, non-academic, but very important element of the ICAME program was its community support. A Stanford ICAME faculty wife had the inspiration to form a group of campus and Palo Alto families, each to host an ICAME Fellow. Many Fellows brought their families, some with small children, even babies. Each Fellow/family was: met on arrival at the airport by a host family; conducted to an already furnished apartment in Mountain View; provided orientation to the area; assisted with shopping; and subsequently, all were invited to participate in social events, both small family gatherings, and with the entire group for dinners and entertainment complete with national foods, costumes and entertainment. To this day, some of the Stanford host/ICAME Fellow relationships continue.

— Leonard “Ted” Marks, Jr., former Stanford GSB Faculty

“One reason Gerry remained so much a part of the Wesleyan scene was his intense belief in the undergraduate experience. When in 1958 then- President Victor L. Butterfield formulated a new tutorial-based college plan drawing much from Oxford, Gerald Meier became a fervent practitioner and advocate. He believed strongly that you could strengthen learning exponentially by changing the teacher-student relationship. Instead of being a “professor” who graded students, Meier committed to being a “tutor” in a collegial pursuit of learning not enslaved to grades. I was one of 15 classmates in the first year of the College of Social Studies. We started to get the difference when Meier insisted we, humble sophomores all, call him Gerry. We admire him today. And though I doubt the collegial bond he shared with us had much to do with the immense learning he continued amass, it had an enduring impact on us.

And as one of his early baby-sitters, I can affirm he was an exemplary family person. Compassion with rationality: he lived it. “

— John Driscoll, College of Social Studies, Wesleyan University

“Gerald Meier was an important influence in my early thoughts of an international career with private capital, real estate, and investment companies which came to fruition during my career with companies based in the USA, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates. I am confident that his wisdom and kindness were significant in the development of scores of young minds during his career, for which we are all appreciative.”

— Robert Boyd, MBA ‘71

“Gerry was a warm and approachable professor; he taught gently and with great respect for development. Then, he was the consummate professional with the growing band of his ex-students. We all became collaborators. The world thanks him.”

— Paul Guenette, MBA ‘85

Gerry’s classes were a highlight of the GSB experience. I have export-led development etched in my brain.

— David Kohls, MBA ‘85

Gerry was a wonderful teacher, clearly presenting theory and contemporary cases … but also carefully listening to the student to determine where he/she was with it. If need be, he could then build the intellectual bridge for them to cross, to reach his point. I will remember him with respect.

— Ron Boring, SEP ‘97

By Arthur Patterson

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