BERGSON, ABRAM (1914–2003), U.S. economist and expert on the Soviet Union. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Bergson earned his B.A. degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1933 and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard in 1935 and 1940, respectively. While he was a graduate student, he and his brother Gustav, a physicist, decided to change their name to Bergson because they felt the name they were born with – Burk – did not convey their Jewish heritage.
From 1937 to 1940 Bergson was an instructor at Harvard, and from 1940 to 1942 assistant professor at the University of Texas. He spent 1942 to 1946 as an economist in various agencies of the U.S. government, and as chief of the division for the Office of Strategic Services, was a U.S. delegate to the Moscow Reparations Conference (1945). For the next ten years he was at Columbia University but returned to Harvard in 1956 as professor of economics, where he remained for the rest of his career.
He began his academic life as a theorist, publishing an extremely influential paper at the age of 23 on the measurement of well-being across society. His best-known work later became linked with that of Paul A. *Samuelson, a classmate at Harvard who won the Nobel in economic science. The Bergson-Samuelson social welfare function, which combines individual gauges of well-being, has been a fixture in economic analysis for decades.
Bergson was director of the Russian Research Center (now the Davis Center) from 1964 to 1968 and acting director from 1969 to 1970. He remained involved in activities at the center until 2002, frequently leading off the question-and-answer period at lectures and symposia. His knowledge of Soviet economic policies and practices qualified him as the outstanding expert before congressional committees dealing with the Soviet economy. As the world's leading authority on the subject, he was consulted and cited far more than any other expert about the assessment and evaluation of Soviet economic performance. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 Soviet scholars, once forced to adjust their findings to the "Party line," were free to express their esteem for Bergson's work. "They would make pilgrimages to see him as if they were coming to consult the oracle," observed Marshall Goldman, associate director of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Research.
In 1983 Bergson received the Distinguished Fellow award of the American Economic Association.
Bergson was the editor of Economic Trends in the Soviet Union (1963). He wrote extensively on his special field of interest; his published works include The Structure of Soviet Wages (1944), Soviet National Income and Product in 1937 (1953), Soviet Economic Growth, Conditions and Perspectives (1953), Soviet National Income and Product 1940–48 (1954), The Real National Income of Soviet Russia Since 1928 (1961), The Economics of Soviet Planning (1964), Essays in Normative Economics (1966), Planning and Productivity Under Soviet Socialism (1968), Productivity and the Social System: The U.S.S.R. and the West (1978), Welfare, Planning, and Employment (1982), and The Soviet Economy: Towards the Year 2000 (co-editor with Herbert Levine, 1983).
[Joachim O. Ronall /
Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]