In Memoriam: Michael A. Lebowitz

May 01, 2023

It is with great sadness that we report the passing of Professor Emeritus Michael Lebowitz on April 19, 2023. 

Lebowitz was a member of the Department of Economics for 35 years. He enjoyed a long and interesting career at SFU where he lectured on Marxist economics, comparative economic systems and economics of history up until his retirement in 2000. During his time at SFU he was actively involved in university politics, serving as President of the Faculty Union and on the University Senate. 

Nancy Olewiler, a former economics faculty member and current professor at SFU's School of Public Policy remembers Lebowitz fondly. She was one of his TAs when she did her MA in economics. "His History of Thought course was a wonderful exploration of the roots of economic thinking," she says, which inspired students to continue with their study of economics.  "No conversation with Mike was short; all were thought provoking. Mike cared deeply about making the world a place better for working people and definitely practiced his beliefs through his writing and direct involvement with governments."

Clyde Reed, SFU Economics Emeritus Professor, shared the following words: 

"I arrived at SFU in 1972, and started teaching Michael Lebowitz’s courses in economic history (thus freeing him to specialize in teaching Marxian economics and comparative systems). I remember going to the library and listening to the tapes of his lectures in order to survive my first few years of teaching. Michael gave me advice on accommodation, restaurants, and hooked me up with a great medical doctor (who subsequently became the Doctor to a series of SFU Presidents). He invited me over to his house to drink mulled wine at Christmas. Only later was I aware of our shared love of jazz. Even though I was the jazz musician, Michael was consistently more on top of what was happening on the frontiers of the music. 

Over the years I have heard from a number of students that Michael was an inspiring teacher. My favorite story concerns Nathan Nunn. Nathan was an undergraduate economics major at SFU. Nathan describes himself as a somewhat unmotivated student. That changed when he took Michael’s courses in Marxian economics. He then became serious about his studies and going to graduate school. His plan was to get an MA in Canada and then to enter a PhD program in England where he could specialize in Marxian economics. Rick Harris was instrumental in getting Nathan into the MA program at the University of Toronto. Once there, Nathan was so impressive that the department urged him to continue in their PhD program. Upon graduation, he joined the faculty of economics at UBC. Subsequently, Nathan was recruited to Harvard as an untenured assistant professor and by his early thirties, Nathan had been promoted to full professor there."

Nathan Nunn shared his memories as well: 

"Mike Lebowitz holds a special place in my heart. It was in the classes I took from him, in the late 90s, that I got to know my now wife Carley Taylor. It is in his classes that I became passionate about Marxian economics, the history of thought, and most importantly, thinking about the big picture questions in economics, like: Where does wealth come from? Can everyone win in a capitalist system? What is a just or fair allocation of wealth? How happy can we be in a market economy compared to a gift exchange economy? These are questions that I am still thinking about all the time and even grapple with in my own research today.

It is because of Mike’s classes on Marxian economics that I became excited about continuing my education in economics. Although he pushed for me to go to graduate school at UMass Amherst, I instead chose the University of Toronto, which had an excellent history of thought program (although I soon learned no one like Mike with the passion or knowledge of Marx). It is really thanks to him that I did an MA and PhD in economics and today I’m able to do what I love every day of my life. I owe him a huge debt for this.

I remember Mike as being a jovial cheery character who was larger than life. Passionate about his scholarly interests without being preachy. He always had a smile on his face.

After I graduated, I met up with Mike multiple times (along with SFU criminology professor Martin Andresen) – I think every time it was at Stamps Landing. I have fond memories of great talks about the big-picture questions facing the world, like inequality, environmental degradation, etc. Mike would fill me in on what he had been doing in Cuba and elsewhere around the world, passing along pamphlets that he had written with a big smile on his face and pure excitement and pride in the work he was doing.

I have only the fondest memories of Mike, a great guy, and someone to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude."

Lebowitz was a valued member of the SFU Economics community. He will be deeply missed.