January 2018 newsletter – Esra Bennathan

Esra Bennathan, Emeritus Professor of Political Economy at the University of Bristol, died peacefully at his home in Washington DC on March 21st 2016 at the age of 93.

Esra had not long retired from Bristol University when I arrived there in 1983 to take up the Chair in Econometrics just vacated by his friend and colleague Angus Deaton. Angus wrote warmly of Esra in his ‘Letter from America’ in the last Newsletter (October 2017).

Esra gave me plenty of advice on the daunting and of course impossible task of replacing Angus. He then called by every few months, keen to keep a protective eye on the Department of which he was so fond, and to satisfy his curiosity about the way in which the Department was working with two new professors, David Ulph having just arrived there too. Esra and I became firm friends.

Born in Berlin of Jewish parents Esra was sent to Palestine in 1936 to live with his father. In 1941 he joined the British army, served as an intelligence officer in North Africa, and, after the war, at the invitation of an uncle, he came to England which became his homeland.

Esra graduated in Economics from Birmingham University and joined the Birmingham faculty where he was a colleague of Michael Beesley, Terence Gorman, Frank Hahn, Maurice ‘Mac’ McManus, David Rowan, and Alan Walters. In 1964 he joined the Department of Applied Economics at Cambridge and became Fellow in Economics at Jesus College Cambridge, and then Senior Economic Affairs Officer of the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East in Bangkok. He took the Chair of Economics at Bristol University in 1976 and in 1981 left for the USA to become Economic Advisor at the World Bank.

Esra was at his happiest working at the interface between transport and development economics and development policy implementation and he made great contributions at the World Bank. An fine example is provided by the book Port Pricing and Investment Policy for Developing Countries1which he wrote with his long-time associate and life-long friend, Alan Walters. Nick Stern writes of Esra in The World Bank: Its First Half Century2 as a ‘key longer-term player at the Bank in the interaction between Bank concerns and outside academics’.

Esra was married to Marion Bennathan, OBE, a distinguished educational psychologist, and after to Judith Nowak, a distinguished physician and psychotherapist, both of whom survive him. He rejoiced in their successes and the successes of his two sons, the late Joss Bennathan, a theatrical director, and Joel Bennathan, QC.

A mentor and loyal friend to many and an influential transport and development economist in the development policy world, Esra is greatly missed.

Andrew Chesher
University College London and
Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice (ceMMAP)

1. Port Pricing and Investment Policies for Developing Countries, E. Bennathan and A.A. Walters, 1979, Oxford University Press, November 1979.
2. Chapter 12, The World Bank as 'Intellectual Actor' in The World Bank: its first half century, Vol 2 Perspectives, ed. Devesh Kapur, John P Lewis and Richard Webb, Brookings Institution Press, 1997.