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07.12.2020
Obituary: Prof. Antal Fekete
Author: Rahim Taghizadegan

The misfortune that drove Antal Fekete from his homeland until his later return, turned out to be lucky for economics. This was also the case for other representatives of the Old Austrian School. This tradition would not have survived in Europe. The legacy of Menger and Mises was mainly preserved in North America.
Fekete emigrated along with almost all of the other Hungarian fans of freedom in 1956, when a people’s uprising was bloodily crushed by the Soviet army. He first went to Vienna, just the other side of the Iron Curtain, and then quickly on to Canada. There he began his academic career as a university professor in mathematics. He wrote a textbook on linear algebra and a handful of specialist articles. He considered his greatest contribution to be his proposal for a numbering system, which expresses numerical values, however high, with the least amount of digits possible - i.e. as economically as possible. The system of “stepnumbers” received no recognition and is typical of Fekete's idiosyncratic approach, which also limited his impact in the field of economic sciences.

His real interest and prominence lay in the field of economics. Just like his stepnumbers system, his economics approaches are potentially highly significant, but sketchy and characterised by peculiarities. In spite of these peculiarities, Fekete never adorned himself with borrowed plumes; he preferred to mention the authors of good ideas or wise thoughts by name too often rather than too little. He also always encouraged his comrades-in-arms to check arguments and make any necessary improvements or corrections.

Unfortunately Fekete did not succeed in completing his life's work. But the wealth of different insights and schemata proves to be a goldmine for any economist who struggles with the most difficult questions surrounding the theory of money, interest and capital, and is sensitive to the devastating social consequences of heading down the wrong economic track. Fekete’s motivation to show the inhuman consequences of the history of money permeates his work in economics. It was his empathy for the casualties of war and inflation that formed the basis of his work. His mathematical training revealed itself in stringent logic, which however always remained humble before the unpredictability of human uniqueness.

Fekete first came to prominence as an economist when he was invited to share his knowledge of monetary history at Paul Volcker's seminar in 1974. Volcker was soon to become Chairman of the Federal Reserve System. Ten years later, Fekete was invited to the American Institute for Economic Research as a visiting researcher. Finally, in 1985, he received his calling to politics - Congressman William E. Dannemeyer brought Fekete on board as a consultant for money reform.

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