Economist, historian, and patriot: Benito J. Legarda 1926-2020

Jeffrey Williamson


One afternoon about twenty-five years ago, there was a knock on my Harvard office door, and Benito Legarda walked into my life. Ben had written his Harvard economics PhD thesis in the early-mid 1950s and then launched his career in central banking and financial policy. Meanwhile, his thesis on nineteenth-century Philippine trade and development was resting comfortably in the archives, where it was soon discovered by scholars and eventually became widely cited. Upon “retirement” some forty years later, Ben had the good fortune to meet up with Henry Rosovsky, a well-known quantitative economic historian who was famous for his Kuznets-like seminal work on Japan. By the 1990s and their meeting, Rosovsky had been chairman of Harvard’s economics department, dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and had become the retired doyen of the Harvard community. Ben told me that Rosovsky had advised him about retirement life: “Now that you’re retired, Ben, why don’t you return to academic research? Indeed, why don’t you revise your thesis for publication? And if you decide to do so, you should go knock on Jeff Williamson’s door. I hear he has interests in the Philippines that stretch back to his participation in a Ford Foundation teaching program at the University of the Philippines School of Economics in the late 1960s.” Thus, the knock on my door some twenty-five years ago.

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