Morris David Morris (February 10, 1921 – March 12, 2011)
By Robert Higgs • Wednesday March 16, 2011 7:39 PM PDT • 3 Comments
I was saddened to learn of the recent death of Morris David Morris, who was my colleague in the Department of Economics at the University of Washington for thirteen of the fifteen years I spent there. Morris was my closest personal friend on the faculty at the UW, notwithstanding our differences of age, background, experience, and education. In each of these areas, he was definitely the man, and I the boy. Yet he was not one to pull rank on an ignorant and narrowly focused junior colleague, and we enjoyed wonderful times together socially, as well as illuminating times (for me) at the university.
Although Morrie’s research specialty was the economic history of India, a field to which he made seminal contributions and in which he was a recognized authority, he seemed to know about everything―European history, sociology, psychology and psychoanalysis, labor relations, you name it. His mind was constantly leaping from one area of knowledge to another and making connections that broadened one’s understanding. When he lectured, he did not write equations or carefully draw graphs on the blackboard, as other economists did, but rather terms and labels inside circles, with arrows running from one circled term to another and with wild swirls gobbling up the entire scenario, until the board ultimately depicted something like the debris left after a tornado has struck. He created all of this illustrative interconnection while lecturing in an animated, yet scholarly manner. Although his rocket-science colleagues in the economics department looked down on him―truly an inversion of a just order of intellects―the graduate students loved him, albeit they sometimes were at a loss to know what to make of his instruction.
Morrie was a good natured man, a pleasure to spend time with. He had a wealth of fascinating stories to tell about his various experiences while living in India on several different occasions and about his service in the Army during World War II, among other things. He was, for example, a member of a small Strategic Bombing Survey team that made the first Allied contact with, and extensively interviewed, the German minister of armaments and war production Albert Speer after the German surrender in 1945. John Kenneth Galbraith was also a member of this team, and so Morrie had a raft of stories about him, too.
My close friendship with Morrie was cemented early in my time at the UW. In 1968, I was approached by a group of students who were circulating an antiwar petition and wanted someone to take it around to the faculty to solicit their signatures. Being staunchly opposed to the war, I agreed to perform this task. Little did I know how my colleagues, some of whom I had yet to meet, would react to my approaching them in this capacity. Some appeared to think that I was a lunatic who had escaped from an asylum. Most regarded me as they would have regarded someone offering them a complimentary bottle of cholera germs. Morrie, however, was ever so glad to sign. In a department with thirty-six faculty members, he was the only one who signed, besides me.
Morris David Morris was a sophisticated, widely learned, highly cultured, emotionally upbeat person, and I, let us say, was none of these things. Yet we became good friends. I had the greatest respect for him, and he was willing to overlook my many deficiencies. I learned a great deal from him over the years, and his friendship was a blessing to me.
He lived to see his 90th birthday, and so far as I was ever aware, he lived for the most part a good and happy life. He was one of the most decent human beings I have had the good fortune to know. May he rest in peace.