THE WORK
HJL Collections

Bio

Papers & Publications
THE VISION
Main Page

Invisible Resource

Harvesting the Invisible Resource
THE MAN
HJL Collection Exhibit

Guide to HJL Collection

Obituaries
THE LEGACY
Tributes

HJL Public Policy Workshop

Additional Personal Materials
Related…
Issues & Events

Groups

Colleagues

 

Participating in People to People Citizen Ambassadorship Program in Soviet Union, June 25, 1991

 

[Additional tributes]


A PERSONAL TRIBUTE

"Economics is a dismal science," my father used to joke self-deprecatingly, sometimes to the objection of his colleagues.  He also modestly mused that his work was so obscure and specialized to the average observer that most people didn't even understand it.  Of course, that changed as the field of communications economics evolved into society's mainstream, as a result of his work and that of his protégés.  He was so humble about his accomplishments and respectful of others' attitudes that, while never at a loss for words on any subject, he seldom acknowledged his achievements.  Indeed, as his only child, I had little knowledge of his contributions as an economist despite our discussions about his professional activities.  But then he was so ahead of his time, most of his contributions to the field and U.S. communications policy weren't visible until towards the end of his life and afterwards.  Even his communications economics colleagues complained that they were unable to complete the writing of a book he had started at the time of his death because his work was "too advanced" and far-reaching.

Always a stickler, of course, for scientific evidence and economic viability, he was a disciple of economists John Maynard Keynes, John Kenneth Galbraith, William Vickrey (his professor and mentor at Columbia University), and Broadus Mitchell (his colleague, friend and fellow member at National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee).  As a teacher, he was tough but passionate and inspiring, with a reputation for giving only one A per semester.  Indeed, a student in his Business and Government class, a required course for all business majors, confessed to me that after the first day, half of the students transferred out, only to later express their envy of those who stayed and praised my father for bringing excitement, vitality and conviction to an otherwise "dismal science" -- a reputation echoed by many of his students who went on to become economists.

Originally expecting to go into English literature rather than economics, he was just as at home and articulate with other areas of interest, including the arts.  Fluent in eight languages, his interest and curiosity about any subject seemed endless. 

If there was one thread that ran through his entire professional life, it was the importance of people throughout the world having their voices heard, and being able to hear the voices of others -- culturally, intellectually and politically. This was reflected in his multilingualism, his unusual passion for divergent world arts, his enlisting in the fight against fascist aggression in World War Two, his serving as a foreign language officer, decoder and interpreter in Washington, Europe and Japan for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services during and immediately following the war; and his pursuit of communications as an economist, and on such a global scale.  And, closer to home geographically, he founded and directed the Public Policy Workshop at Hofstra University, subsequently named in his memory, which engaged public figures and scholars of international reputation and opposing viewpoints, bringing them together with the Hofstra and Long Island communities on the great issues of the day.  He also embarked on a regional speaking tour of houses of worship, addressing the Nixon administration's infringement on freedom of speech, and was active with the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, the National Citizens Committee for Broadcasting, the Committee To Protect Journalists, and the Long Island Coalition for Fair Broadcasting Advisory Board. 

Although he regretted not having become a public interest lawyer, due to lack of exposure as a young student, he felt that he was able to accomplish the same kind of work and goals as an economist later in his career.

Accepted by Harvard as an undergraduate at the age of sixteen after skipping two grades at Forest Hills' high school, he couldn't afford to attend, and his parents considered him too young for such a large institution.  But he partially worked his way through high school and college as a jazz pianist/arranger, and later attended Harvard Law School as a Carnegie Fellow in Law and Economics.  He remained a devotee of nearly all forms of music, literature and theatre.  As a young man, he played the title roles in Charley's Aunt and The Man Who Came to Dinner in community theatre productions, and was a commentator and disc jockey at the radio station of Hamilton College.  I found it ironic, as a musician coming of age in the 1960s and '70s, that he became far more enamored of contemporary pop music than I was.  He was the original "multiculturalist".  We even joked that he would be reincarnated as a rock star!

Growing up in an uneducated, Jewish immigrant family of modest means that encouraged his education despite their lack of comprehension of his profession, he consistently demonstrated a sense of priority and commitment in working for the advancement of those less fortunate than himself.  In his professional, civic and personal life, he strived to improve the rights, opportunities, facilities and technologies of disadvantaged minority groups and the poor, in America as well as in his own backyard, and in third world countries.  As his friend Warren Henry -- the eminent, internationally known African-American physicist -- stated, he was "truly a citizen of the world... who concerned himself with the struggles of the human race."  He was so uncompromising in his integrity and convictions that, as a candidate for local elective office on Long Island in the early 1960s, he broke with the party's platform by expressing his own ideas on the issues, which he later recalled with some amusement.

On a personal note, he acknowledged to me that his work served as "salvation" in overcoming the untimely loss of my mother to cancer and, subsequently, the loss of his fiancée to medical malpractice during a routine procedure following a minor injury caused by a drunk driver (resulting in an irreversible, decades-long coma and, ultimately, her death.)  Also, much to the surprise of those who'd advised against it, he triumphed in an unlikely role he never sought but refused to decline -- as a single parent raising a child.

With zeal, optimism, humor and irony, he can be heard on audio tapes of numerous telecommunications conferences, proposing innovative policies regarding orbit spectrum assignments and satellite auctions, to skeptical and dismissing industry officials.  In the face of industry and government laissez faire, he remained the true believer.  His proposals were vindicated four years after his death with the passage of the U.S. Telecommunications Act -- a "promised land" he'd seen but didn't live to experience.  His legacy lives on in his numerous publications, in U.S. communications policy, in his collections of personal papers at Columbia Institute for Tele-Information (CITI), Hofstra University Archives and Research Libraries Information Network, and in the work of scholars and think tank groups like CITI and Resources for the Future.

Adam R. Levin


In Colorado for his presentation at the national conference of
 the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers 
in Boulder, March 1969

"I couldn't help but wonder if I were really the person whom all the commotion was about today...  By now I'm sure that I'm not that person.  In fact, I doubt that the commotion today is really about any person at all."
-- Harvey J. Levin
   on receiving the Weller Chair in Economics
   September 23, 1964

OBSERVATIONS BY COLLEAGUES

"He was a notable scholar… in ways that were an example for all of us: his commitment and all of the other things that went with it, his constant peregrinations in search of bringing his message to people all over this country and the rest of the world… With all his ways and his accomplishments, Harvey, above all, was a true original, and he was an original in a time that breeds all too many hollow men, if not stuffed men."

-- John Ullmann, Professor of Management

"Euripides said, ‘When good men die, their goodness does not perish but lives though they are gone.’ This was true of Harvey… His scholarship was recognized throughout the profession, and his books will long be sought in the libraries throughout the world for his espousal of open communication for the weak as well as the strong."

-- Harold Wattel, Professor of Business

"Harvey was an embodiment of creative energy, manifesting it in many ways, as a very serious scholar with a taste and talent for music, a demanding teacher who contributed generously to a multitude of programs and causes. Who else knew Japanese so many years before that became fashionable, or so enthusiastically kept his academic interests attuned to changing technology?"

-- Jacob Weissman, Economist
Shirley Langer, Psychologist

"For the past forty years that I have known [him], he has always been a pillar of strength both for me and for those of us who have fought to protect the freedoms and intellectual integrity of this country."

-- Marvin Lee, Economist

"He was a delightful man… universally well thought of. Indeed... the FCC sponsored a conference on spectrum called 'The Invisible Resource.' Harvey was a featured speaker… It was the 30th of April, 1991 – one year to the day he died… He had truly been one of the pioneers in broadcast regulation, and we both liked to think that I was following in his footsteps."

-- Thomas Hazlett, Chief Economist, Federal Communications Commission (1992)

"He was truly several decades ahead of his time... I constantly refer people back to his book and his articles in the American Economic Review. In some areas, people still haven't caught up to [him]. For example, I have yet to find anybody else provide a more thoughtful spectrum leasing analysis -- a very timely topic here in DC... The Explanation to the Citizen's Guide to the Airwaves... that cites [him]... has recently been distributed to Capitol Hill and the relevant think tank community."

-- J. H. Snider, Senior Research Fellow, New America Foundation (2003)

"He was an inspiring teacher… For those of us who listened to very few, what made us listen to Harvey? I think it was a quality of mind, an integrity, a belief that what he was doing in his careful way mattered, that it mattered to policy, that it mattered to the way the world worked… I think it was, in part, that we knew Harvey took us seriously… He didn’t much notice what we looked like, and he didn’t much notice even the language that we spoke. What he cared about was, what was the quality of mind, what was the quality of the character? And he saw quality of mind and character in many different kinds of packages. That’s an unusual quality in a man, and I think one that it sounds like he had looking at many people... We looked at his research… ideas that people might have thought you could fall asleep with. Harvey didn’t fall asleep. He was excited about his work, he was excited about ideas, and that was something that made many of us then, I think, go on and be excited about our work as well… He was a man who made a great deal of difference…"

-- Sharon Oster, Economist

"He was constantly unfolding as an intellectual, as a human being… Albert Einstein was quoted as saying he was not smarter than others, he was just more curious. ‘Josh’ was like that. The range of his interests and the depth of his knowledge always amazed me."

-- Kitty Madeson, Writer

"Harvey Levin was not only a scholar and a genius in his profession of economics with its many facets, but was truly a citizen of the world. He was a philosopher who was optimistic about the future of mankind… As a result of his many efforts, he has contributed greatly to making the world a better place to live in."

-- Warren Henry, Physicist

[Additional tributes]

THE WORK
HJL Collections

Bio

Papers & Publications
THE VISION
Main Page

Invisible Resource

Harvesting the Invisible Resource
THE MAN
HJL Collection Exhibit

Guide to HJL Collection

Obituaries
THE LEGACY
Tributes

HJL Public Policy Workshop

Additional Personal Materials
Related…
Issues & Events

Groups

Colleagues