Retired Sterling Professor Lloyd Reynolds, described by his peers as the man “responsible for the modern Economics Department at Yale,” died after suffering several strokes in his home in Washington, D.C. on April 9. Reynolds, a leading economist who taught at Yale from 1945 to 1980 and was credited with recruiting several renowned faculty members, was 94 years old.
A pioneer in the fields of labor and development economics, Reynolds established the Yale Economic Growth Center in the late 1950s. As chair of the Economics Department from 1951 to 1959, Reynolds was credited with steering the department to new heights by doubling the faculty from 31 to 65 professors.
“You can draw a line, so to speak, between the eras,” economics professor T.N. Srinivasan said. “The fact that the Yale Economics Department is one of the leading departments in the country is in large part due to his efforts.”
During Reynolds’ tenure as chair, the Economics Department faced criticism from the conservative commentator William F. Buckley Jr. ’50, who called on the department to fire “collectivist” faculty members who he deemed too liberal. But Reynolds defended the department against Buckley’s criticisms, refusing to fire any professors.
“The department had been attacked rather unfairly by Bill Buckley in ‘God and Man at Yale,’” said Yale historian and professor emeritus of history Gaddis Smith. “The department in fact was not as strong as it should have been, and it also had an image problem. Reynolds stepped in and recruited some extraordinary economists.”
Reynolds had a simple explanation for how he was able to recruit quality faculty members.
“It’s very simple — just be willing to hire people who are brighter than you are,” Reynolds was quoted as saying in Geoffrey Kabaservice’s recent book, “The Guardians,” which chronicles Yale during the reign of former President Kingman Brewster.
Richard Freeman, a professor of labor economics at Harvard University, served with Reynolds on an American economic delegation to Russia in the 1980s. Freeman said Reynolds maintained his composure when a group of Russians began to threaten the American delegation and brag about their weapons capabilities.
“He was very smooth, he kept us out of trouble and he kept the Russians off us,” Freeman said. “He was very diplomatic about it — it was done just right.”
Reynolds’ son, Bruce Reynolds, described his father as a cheerful, quiet and disciplined man who took his work seriously.
“Trekking in Nepal — that kind of activity really captures his approach to life — putting one foot in front of another until he got to his objective was characteristic of him,” Reynolds’ son said. “I would say he came a long way in life through academic focus and achievements.”
Reynolds’ most significant contribution to academics was his research on the complexity of real-world labor markets, which highlighted the differences in prices, wages and turnover rates within a single market, said Jeremy Fox, an economics professor at the University of Chicago.
“That has shaped how labor economists have thought about modeling the labor market ever since,” Fox said. “No one had ever done anything like that at that point in time. He was highly influential in the field of labor economics.”
Reynolds was also “very influential” in the field of development economics, said Gary Fields, chair of the Industrial Labor Relations Department at Cornell University.
“In the later years of his career, he took the tools of labor economics and applied them to development economics,” Fields said. “In doing this, he was an inspiration to those of us who sought to draw on the strengths of other branches of economics to find ways of helping poor countries develop.”