Professor was a pioneer in economic cybernetics

Paul Medow, a retired economics professor who specialized in the history of economic thought and was renowned as a pioneer in economic cybernetics, died on May 20. He was 79.

Prof. Medow was born to Russian émigrés in Prague in 1926 and grew up in France. He moved to the United States just before the Second World War and served in the US army under General Patton. He was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge, one of the worst battles for the Americans in terms of loss of life, and later received received the Purple Heart.

Left: Paul Medow, when he was a York economics professor

Prof. Medow’s degrees included a bachelor of engineering from Cornell University and a PhD in economics and international affairs from Columbia University. His dissertation was based on the works of Joseph Schumpeter, author of Business Cycles. He was a student and associate of Karl Polanyi, author of The Great Transformation.

Prof. Medow received a Ford Foundation scholarship, which he used to tour Europe’s major centres of economic thought and to work with economists of international reputation, including Ragnar Frisch (Oslo), Oscar Lange (Krakow), V.S. Nemchinov (Moscow), Gunnar Myrdal (Sweden) and Jan Tinbergen (Netherlands).

Before accepting a position in the Department of Economics at York in 1968, Prof. Medow taught at New Jersey’s Rutgers University and New York City’s New School for Social Thought.

When he joined York’s faculty in 1968, the Department of Economics was setting its own syllabus and differentiating itself from the University of Toronto. He played a role during that important period in the department’s history.

During his 28-year career at York, Prof. Medow established a reputation as an expert on the history of economic thought and as a pioneer of economic cybernetics and the application of computers in the field of economics. He founded York University’s systems-planning laboratory, where his teachings were influenced by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Jay Forrester’s system dynamics techniques and the use of feedback loops to simulate outcomes of economic and demographic scenarios. He was an authority in simulation modeling and favoured Ken Iverson’s APL programming language.

Prof. Medow also strove to instill in his students a healthy respect for environmental and sociological aspects of economic theories. His favourite books included Stafford Beer’s Platform for Change and Brain of the Firm, books which draw parallels between management theory and a brain’s management of a live organism.

Fluency in five languages made Prof. Medow a natural on the international scene. During the latter part of his career he actively organized conferences for the Institute de la Vie, a Paris-based international institute dedicated to a multidisciplinary approach to assessing the state of the world, and the membership of which includes several Nobel Prize winners.

Prof. Medow is survived by his wife Inna; sons Serge, Alexei and Andrew; and grandchildren Anna, Serge, Andrew, Paul, Alexander and Christina.