October 2020 Newsletter – John Weeks

The Anglo-American political economist and development economist John Weeks died on the 26 July 2020. In addition to a number of polemical works criticising capitalism, that gave him a public following after the 2008 financial crisis, John was highly respected in UN agencies and development circles for his work in Jamaica, Vietnam, Latin America and Africa. In recent years he had coordinated economic research at the Progressive Economy Forum, where he assembled a number of critical economists and commentators to provide a more radical economic programme for the Labour Party.

John was born on the 1 April 1941, in Austin, Texas, the third of three children of William Alden Weeks and his wife Elizabeth (née Andrews). William Weeks worked as an accountant for the state government, but lost his job on revealing corruption by local oil interests. This background lay at the root of John’s profound sensitivity to justice and unfairness. He studied Economics at the University of Texas and became involved in the civil rights movement. Gaduating in 1959 he moved on to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to study for a PhD on Nigerian industrialisation. John followed up his political activism in Texas by getting involved in the movement against the Vietnam war and helping to establish the Union for Radical Political Economics. His graduate studies gave him the opportunity to work in Nigeria. He was awarded his PhD in 1969.

In 1970 John Weeks joined the School of African and Asian Studies at the University of Sussex and in 1972 moved to the new Economics Department at Birkbeck College London, where he taught development economics. In 1977 he returned to the US to teach at the American University in Washington DC, with long periods of leave to work in Peru and Nicaragua. In 1990, by now married to Elizabeth Dore and with two children, he returned to London where he was invited to create an M.Sc. programme in Development Economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, at a time when the School was expanding its social science teaching and research. He chaired the Economics Department and directed a new Centre for Development Policy and Research. John was obliged to retire in 2006, to his regret, just before Economics became interesting again. In 2014 he published The Economics of the 1%: How Mainstream Economics Serves the Rich, Obscures Reality and Distorts Policy, followed this year by The Debt Delusion: Living within Our Means and Other Fallacies. The election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party renewed John’s political optimism and he joined Patrick Allen’s Progressive Economy Forum to promote a Left agenda with practical policies as well as ideas.

John Weeks’ academic career was marked not only by his political commitment, but also by the great personal kindness that he showed to his students and those with whom he worked. He leaves behind his wife, Elizabeth Dore, Professor Emeritus of Latin American Studies at the University of Southampton, two children, Rachel and Matthew, and two grandchildren.

Jan Toporowski, SOAS, University of London