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John Marion Letiche
In Memoriam

John Marion Letiche

Professor of Economics, Emeritus

UC Berkeley
John Marion (“Jack”) Letiche, professor emeritus in the Department of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, died peacefully in his sleep on September 5, 2017. Professor Letiche, née Ianik Letichevsky, was born in Uman in Ukraine on November 11, 1918, and he moved with his family to Canada after the Russian revolution. He received his bachelor’s (1940) and master’s (1941) degrees at McGill University, and was awarded his Ph.D. in Economics in 1951 at the University of Chicago. His advisers at Chicago, the renowned economists Jacob Viner and Theodore W. Schultz, were influential in his intellectual development. During World War II, Professor Letiche served at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, where his work focused on Soviet-American economic cooperation to win the war.

Professor Letiche came to the University of California in 1946. At Berkeley, he proudly served as lecturer, assistant professor, associate professor, full professor, and as emeritus professor, and after retirement he was 'called back' to teach courses until 1998. Professor Letiche served for over three decades as the chair of the University's Committee on Regents’ and Chancellor's Distinguished Visiting Professors, whereby he encouraged scholars and artists from abroad to come as visiting professors to Berkeley as visiting professors. In 1990 he received the Berkeley Citation, “for distinguished achievement and for notable service to the University,” and in his autobiography, Crises and Compassion: from Russia to the Golden Gate, he wrote, “[t]o have my decades of service acknowledged in this way was deeply moving.” His autobiography also noted that the years that Professor Letiche spent at Berkeley were characterized by the remarkable intellectual growth of the University but also by periods of great discord, involving issues like the loyalty oath requirement and the Free Speech Movement. Throughout these times, Professor Letiche was steadfast in his commitment to civility and open discourse. He wrote, “I have found that conflict is most effectively managed not by plunging further into polarization but by retaining confidence in the power of deeply held principles – and acting upon them.”

Professor Letiche’s research career spanned over 60 years. He authored and edited numerous books and wrote over 200 articles and book chapters. His research covered many fields, including international economics, development economics and macroeconomics, and he had a very broad knowledge of the Russian, African, and Asian economies. Professor Letiche had been a Guggenheim Fellow, Rockefeller Fellow (on the Council on Foreign Relations), Fulbright Fellow, and Fellow of the American Academy of Learned Societies. He received the Adam Smith Medal from the University of Verona. During his long career, he was also extremely active in policy research and advice, being a frequent consultant for international organizations, governments, and non-governmental organizations. Professor Letiche was a firm believer in the virtues of multinational cooperation above bilateralism or unilateralism; he was always convinced that fairness and justice lead faster to peace and welfare than the exercise of raw power.

As a teacher, Professor Letiche stressed the necessity for intelligent government regulation and balance between personal and social gain and the short- and long-term consequences of actions. He was passionate about the benefits to the American economy of positive economic and political development in Russia and Africa. He was well-known among students for his broad knowledge, his wit, his warmth, kindness and generosity. His enthusiasm was contagious.

Professor Letiche’s colleagues in the economics department also remember his intellect, warmth, and generosity. A former colleague, James Powell, says that “Jack was the definition of a gentleman scholar. I first met Jack when I was a freshman at Berkeley, and he came to dinner at my dorm as our faculty adviser. I later learned that I badly mangled the pronunciation of his name when introducing him, but he didn’t let on to my dormmates. I never got to take a class from Jack, but got to know him better when I joined the faculty in the mid-90’s. Although my research area was quite far from his, I was impressed by his continuing intellectual curiosity, about my own work and about economics in general.”

Jack Letiche’s much loved wife, Emily Letiche, died August 28, 2010; he is survived by his son Hugo and his wife Maria; three grandchildren Maurice, Mascha, and Terrence, and five great-grandchildren.

Gérard Roland
James L. Powell