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Leland Yeager, by Robert Greenfield

“I like to think,” Mark Blaug’s Who’s Who in Economics (1986) quotes Yeager as saying, almost reticently it seems, “that I have made contributions toward identifying money’s role in balance-of-payments disequilibrium and  adjustment and reconciling the elasticities, absorption, and monetary approaches to the topic; grasping the implications of the fact that money serves as routine medium of exchange and lacks a market and a price of its own; more fully understanding our existing monetary system by contrasting it with a radically deregulated system [whose unit of account were defined physically but without a link to anything that could come into use as a medium of exchange and] in which media of exchange and payments services were provided by private enterprise; grasping the implications of the fact that money serves as routine medium of exchange and lacks a market and a price of its own and clarifying the nature of capital and interest  and  showing how their proper conceptualization dissolves the ‘Cambridge capital paradoxes’. ”

“I like to think….”?  Would that we all had Yeager’s modesty.  Just for the record, consider….

Apropos “identifying the role of money in balance-of-payments disequilibrium and adjustment and reconciling the elasticities, absorption, and monetary approaches to balance of payments adjustment”:

Paul Einzig, author of more than 50 books on foreign exchange, called Yeager’s International Monetary Relations: History and Theory “a book of outstanding importance…. [T]he best book on foreign exchange that has appeared since the war.”

Apropos “grasping the implications of the fact that money serves as routine medium of exchange and lacks a market and a price of its own”:

Richard Timberlake, eminent historian of U.S. monetary policy, called Yeager’s “Essential Properties of the Medium of Exchange” (Kyklos, February 1968) “one of the twentieth century’s ten most important articles on monetary theory.”

Apropos “contrasting our existing monetary system with a radically deregulated system [whose unit of account were defined physically but without a link to anything that could come into use as a medium of exchange and] in which media of exchange and payments services were provided by private enterprise”:

Milton Friedman called “A Laissez Faire Approach to Monetary Stability” (Journal of Money, Credit, and Banking, August 1983) “absolutely splendid.” (I hope that readers won’t consider my quoting Friedman’s remark self-serving.  I know that thanks to my having a name beginning with “G” and to Yeager’s generosity, I have received as co-author of this particular article more than a fair share of credit.)

Apropos “clarifying the nature of capital and interest and showing how their proper conceptualization dissolves the ‘Cambridge capital paradoxes’”:

The editors of Economic Inquiry called Yeager’s “Toward Understanding Some Paradoxes in Capital Theory” (September 1976) their journal’s article of the year.

And then there is Yeager’s treatise on ethics (Ethics as Social Science, 2001); his collected writings on political economy (Is the Market a Test of Truth and Beauty? 2011); and his translation (1983) of a 1919 book (Ludwig von Mises, Nation, State and Economy) that, had it appeared in English originally, not in German, might well have taken a place alongside Keynes’s Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919).

I could go on, citing additional journal articles (many, on monetary theory, collected in George Selgin, ed., The Fluttering Veil:  Essays on Monetary Disequilibrium, 1997) and books (e.g., with David Tuerck, Trade Policy and the Price System, 1976).  Instead, I’ll conclude by mentioning a tribute whose very title shows the esteem in which Yeager is held by colleagues and students alike—“The Yeager Mystique: The Polymath as Teacher” (William Breit, Kenneth Elzinga, and Thomas Willett, Eastern Economic Journal, Spring 1996).

Robert Greenfield is Professor of Economics and Finance at Fairleigh Dickinson University