Remembering John Loxley
The progressive economics community, in Canada and around the world, lost a wonderful colleague, comrade and friend with the passing of John Loxley on July 28, 2020. Here I would like to share some personal reflections on John’s impact on my life as a progressive economist, and the very rich legacy he has left our shared community. (I also commend the many other tributes that have been posted, including here here here here here and here.)
John embodied a combination of innovative, world-class economic analysis with a deep commitment to community organizing and political change – from the local to the global. He was among the most inspiring, collegial, and activist progressive economists I have ever had the privilege to work with.
I personally got to know John through his leading role in initiating the alternative budgeting movement at the national level in Canada. He and his comrades in the Winnipeg social justice coalition CHO!CES hosted a special workshop in 1994, to explain to progressives from across Canada how they did their very effective alternative budgets provincially and municipally. That workshop led to the formation of the first Alternative Federal Budget, co-sponsored by CHO!CES and the CCPA – just in time to confront the ravages of Paul Martin’s infamous austerity budget in 1995.
At that initial meeting, I was immediately struck by John’s humble and solidaristic personal approach to movement-building. He brought powerful intellectual force to the AFB process, with both his critique of neoliberal policies and his formulation of ambitious but practical alternatives. But he understood integrally that effective movements cannot be built by ‘great minds.’ They must be built through mass participation, empowerment, and democracy. So from that first workshop, right through his many years of dedicated service to the AFB project, John took great care to ensure it didn’t become an expert-driven technocratic exercise. Instead, he constantly emphasized the sharing of knowledge, skills, and leadership. This commitment to participatory practice is also reflected, among many other ways, in his abundant work over the years on a range of “how-to” resources for activists in alternative budgeting, community economic development, and other economic justice movements (a couple of examples are referenced below).
That commitment to collective and collegial movement-building informed all of John’s work: including his years of consistent leadership and bridge-building to establish and grow the world-renowned heterodox economics program at the University of Manitoba; his work as an advisor to NDP provincial governments in Manitoba; his consulting with unions on the fight against public-private partnerships; his essential but always-collectivist role in helping win several SSHRC grants to support community-based research; and his years of careful, respectful work advising indigenous communities in Manitoba and elsewhere on community development issues. I can’t think of any other economist whose personal contributions to real-world social change initiatives were both so wide-ranging and so consistently effective. (I wrote about John’s unique economic activism in my 2007 David Gordon lecture to the Union for Radical Political Economics on strengthening the links between progressive economists and social justice movements; reference below.)
John’s energetic and collegial presence strengthened our community in countless informal ways, too: like his stalwart role on Winnipeg’s leftist soccer club, his contributions to the local hardware co-op, and his reliable attendance at progressive social and community events. Yet all this activity and activism was always framed (and balanced) by his enduring love for his partner and children.
John’s earliest work as a progressive economist was in the field of development economics and global finance, before I had the privelege of knowing him. He advised progressive governments across Africa (including the early days of free South Africa), and built a global reputation (through work like Debt and Disorder, see below) as a passionate, rigorous scholar. He inspired and influenced students and colleagues around the world. One small manifestation of that global influence is the incredible number of messages I have received since John’s passing from colleagues literally on all continents – all of us shattered by the premature loss of our friend and mentor.
It should be noted here that John was a founding member of the Progressive Economics Forum in 1998, and was an active participant in many of our panels and events at the Canadian Economics Association conferences and elsewhere. This early support from such a renowned progressive economist was vital to us getting the Forum up and running. Then in 2010 he was the winner of the second Galbraith Prize, awarded by the PEF to someone who has made a lifetime contribution to progressive economic theory and practice in Canada. He was a very obvious and fitting early choice for that award, given his influence on so many aspects of our community’s scholarship and advocacy. His Galbraith lecture reflected on his early years as a progressive economist in Africa, and the lessons that can be applied in the struggle for global economic equity today.
My last visits with John were in November, 2019, associated with a wonderful fund-raising tribute brunch organized in his honour by the Manitoba office of the CCPA. I was incredibly honoured to be invited to speak at that event, and traveled to Winnipeg from Australia for the occasion. The sense of love and gratitude among the hundreds of supporters and fans in the room was palpable – as were the tens of thousands of dollars raised at the event to support the CCPA’s Errol Black Chair in Labour Issues (an initiative that John himself had helped to establish in Errol’s honour some years earlier). In his own remarks to the brunch, John spoke of his childhood in Sheffield in the 1940s and 1950s, and how the introduction of universal public programs under the postwar Labour government there made a life-changing difference to the trajectory of his life. It was typically humble of him to place his own experience in the context of the grand political-economic trajectory. Gratefully, in addition to the brunch itself, we shared many laughs that weekend over collective meals and at a year-end party for his soccer club. Thank you to the Manitoba office of the CCPA for organizing that tribute, and inviting me to participate.
I conclude with my personal thanks to John for his inspiration, mentorship, and outstanding example as a true “organic intellectual” — combining first-rate scholarship with a thorough commitment to democratic practice and empowerment. I am heartbroken that we lost him too soon, and send my deepest condolences to Aurelia and his whole family. But I am also struck by the legions of powerful progressive economists (and principled people in other disciplines) whom he taught and inspired over the years; we are now carrying on the campaigns John supported so passionately. We will work to win the world of justice and democracy John hoped for. And we will win.
Photo: CCPA Tribute Brunch, Winnipeg, November 2019
Haroon Akram-Lodhi, Robert Chernomas and Ardeshir Sepehri (2005). Globalization, Neo-Conservative Policies, and Democratic Alternatives: Essays in Honour of John Loxley (Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring).
John Loxley (1986). Debt and Disorder: External Financing for Economic Growth (New York: Westview/Routledge).
John Loxley (1998). Interdependence, Disequilibrium and Growth: Reflections on the Political Economy of North-South Relations at the Turn of the Century (London: Palgrave).
John Loxley (2003). Alternative Budgets: Budgeting as if People Mattered (Black Point: Fernwood).
John Loxley (2010). Aboriginal, Northern, and Community Economic Development: Papers and Retrospectives (Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring).
John Loxley (2020). Ideology Over Economics: P3s in an Age of Austerity (Black Point: Fernwood).
John Loxley and Salim Loxley (2008). Public Service, Private Profits: The Political Economy of Public-Private Partnerships in Canada (Black Point: Fernwood).
John Loxley, Jim Silver, and Kathleen Sexsmith, eds. (2008). Doing Community Economic Development (Black Point: Fernwood).
Jim Stanford (2008). “Radical Economics and Social Change Movements: Strengthening the Links between Academics and Activists,” Review of Radical Political Economics 40(3), pp. 205-219.