In Memoriam: Tracy Mott
By Markus Schneider, chair and associate professor in the Department of Economics
We are greatly saddened by the passing of our colleague Economics Professor Emeritus Tracy Mott on his 75th birthday. As an academic, he was recognized as a preeminent scholar of the works of Michał Kalecki and made numerous important contributions to post-Keynesian macroeconomics on the determinants of investment. Particularly impactful among his early works were his article on liquidity preference (Mott, 1985), his empirical contribution with Steven Fazzari (Fazzari & Mott, 1986), his article with Julio Lopez comparing Kalecki and Keynes on investment (Mott & Lopez, 1999), and his two articles with Edward Slattery on the role of tax incidence and income distribution in determining investment (Mott & Slattery, 1994a; 1994b).
His first book, "Rethinking Capitalist Development," was an edited volume that Tracy collaborated on with Nina Shapiro and that presented a collection of essays on the contributions of Josef Steindl, who was deeply influenced by Kalecki. Tracy’s second book, "Kalecki's Principle of Increasing Risk and Keynesian Economics," synthesized much of his decades of thinking about Kalecki and investment. These highlighted contributions are only a small sample of the scholarly work that Tracy produced both on his own and in collaboration with his colleagues and students (see his recent contributions with Mark Evers, 2015, and Peter Ho, 2020).
Tracy did his undergraduate work at Princeton (AB ’68) and then moved to New York where he worked for city, federal and community agencies while pursuing a master's in divinity from Union Theological Seminary (MDiv ’74). Afterwards, he moved across the country to study economics at Stanford. A classmate of Tracy’s at Stanford, Avi Cohen, relayed to us that “being a preacher served Tracy, and all of us as his friends, very well.” Tracy wrote his dissertation with Don Harris and earned his PhD in 1982. His first academic appointment was at the University of Colorado Boulder where he taught economics for a decade before joining the University of Denver in 1991.
Despite making many of his most influential early contributions while at Boulder, it was the department in the College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences at the University of Denver that really became his intellectual home. Over several stints as chair, and as an outspoken senior member of the department, he was influential in shaping our undergraduate and graduate curricula. Most notable were his contributions in designing the department’s non-standard introductory courses, which eschewed the conventional micro-macro dichotomy of mainstream economics to also incorporate substantial coverage of the history of economic thought, and his signature graduate course titled “Origins of Modern Economics.” He liked teaching “Origins” so much that he was adamant that he would never give it up and his infectious enthusiasm for the material lives on among generations of students who received their MA degrees in economics from the University of Denver.
The recurring sentiment from people who knew Tracy is that he was a truly good person. As Avi Cohen put it, he was like his “signature potluck dish (for Thanksgiving especially) of candied sweet potatoes with Jack Daniels and marshmallows on top. … [S]weet, kind-of wholesome, southern, with a hidden kick, and unabashedly good.” Tracy was especially genuine in his interest in others. At department seminars, he was often the first to eagerly ask a question and his questions always engaged with the most positive aspects of the speaker’s ideas. Similarly, Tracy always highlighted what he saw as students’ strongest original ideas as their thesis supervisor. Often, he was the one who took on the students who were struggling or felt discouraged, and in his gentle and patient manner built their confidence to complete their thesis and earn their degree. He was also a persistent champion of our non-traditional and part-time students.
One of my first experiences working with Tracy was co-supervising a MA thesis that offered a critical assessment of how financial markets were often modeled in ways that made the financial crisis of 2008 inexplicable. Even though this was much more in his area of expertise than mine, and he was the prominent senior scholar, he made me feel valued as an equal in supervising the thesis. It turned out to be a particularly good piece of scholarship, and Tracy went on to coach the student to publish it as a sole-authored article (Fahey, 2013). It stands out as a testament to his generosity both towards his colleagues and his students that made him a beloved mentor to both. This generous spirit and genuine engagement with others’ ideas left an impression on everyone who met Tracy, leading them to remember him as a good guy — but it also means that his influence over four decades of intellectual work extends far beyond the considerable amount of scholarly work he published.
As Former-Dean Danny McIntosh noted, Tracy “cared deeply, not only for Economics, but for many beyond the department and walls of the university.” Like Danny and so many others around the world whose lives he touched, his friends and former colleagues in the department “will miss being able to talk and laugh with him.”
The department invites all who knew Tracy to share their thoughts and memorable moments with us via email@example.com. We will launch a memorial page on our website where we will populate with what is shared.
We will also create a student prize in Tracy’s honor that will be given at our annual J. Fagg Foster awards ceremony, which Tracy presided over as master of ceremony for many years. If you'd like to make a contribution towards funding this award, please visit our give page, select "Economics Department Fund," and leave a comment to let us know that you are making your gift in Tracy’s memory.