Economist, Soviet scholar Gregory Grossman dies at 93

Gregory-Grossman

UC Berkeley professor emeritus Gregory Grossman, a leading scholar specializing in the study of Soviet economy, died Aug. 14. He was 93.

Grossman was the author of several publications outlining the inner workings of Soviet society. He coined the terms “command economy” and “second economy,” now widely used among economists.

In 1991, he received the lifetime achievement award from the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.

“(He was) the kind of scholar whose towering stature in the field was among the reasons that UC Berkeley was and remained great as a research university,” said colleague George Breslauer, UC Berkeley’s former executive vice chancellor and provost, in an email. “He set the standard, nationally and internationally, for how to understand and study the Soviet economy.”

Breslauer reasoned that Grossman’s self-discipline helped him rise to the top, recalling that the Loma Prieta earthquake struck while Grossman was giving a presentation. While the rest of the faculty rushed under doorways and tables, Grossman stood unperturbed and continued.

Born in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, Grossman fled with his family to China when he was young. Grossman then moved to the United States, where he attended UC Berkeley. After serving in World War II and completing his postdoctoral degree at Harvard University, Grossman took a faculty position at UC Berkeley.

Throughout his travels, Grossman remained close with his cousin Moses Grossman. The two graduated high school and attended college together, both settling in the Bay Area.

“We lived parallel lives,” Moses Grossman said, describing his cousin as a serious man with a “wry sense of humor.”

Although Grossman was unable to see the rest of his family often, he still made an effort to support his relatives in Russia emotionally and financially, according to his daughter, Amy Di Costanzo. When refugees emigrated to the United States, he would help them find jobs.

“He always felt he was lucky having survived, having escaped from post-revolution Ukraine at a time when he would’ve met certain death,” Di Costanzo said. “Every day he woke up and appreciated who he was and where he was.”

Di Costanzo, who has fond memories playing car games and camping with her father, explained that he also loved wordplay. Although English was his second language, his puns were often better than those of native speakers, she said.

“He taught me the value of word,” she said. “He taught me to choose my words.”

Grossman is survived by his wife, UC Berkeley professor emeritus Joan Grossman, and his two children, Joel Grossman and Di Costanzo. His family held the funeral Aug. 19, and the campus economics department and the Institute for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies will hold a memorial in the next few months.

Contact Tahmina Achekzai at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tahminachekzai.