David Coates obituary

Other lives: Political economist, author and liberal thinker who embraced the role of public intellectual

My father, David Coates, who has died aged 71, was a political economist, incisive critic of capitalism, and author.

He was also a politics lecturer, professor of government and, from 1999, Worrell professor of Anglo-American studies at Wake Forest University, North Carolina. His academic work ranged widely: from the British labour movement and social change in postwar Britain to the possibilities of “third way” leftwing politics.

David embraced the role of public intellectual, providing – with his popular books Answering Back (2009) and A Liberal Toolkit (2007), and a stream of closely argued blogposts on HuffPost – social democratic ammunition for the culture wars roiling US politics. His final work, Flawed Capitalism, was published in May.

He also taught evening classes for the Workers’ Education Association and the Open University in the UK, and co-designed the OU’s foundational undergraduate course in social science, guiding a generation of students. For David, who was strongly influenced by the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, teaching was fundamental to the possibility of creating political change.

Born in Tottington, Greater Manchester, to Edna (nee Todd) and Robert Coates, a policeman, David went to Stretford grammar school before heading to York University to study politics. He graduated in 1967, then gained a DPhil in political science from Pembroke and Nuffield colleges, Oxford, in 1970.

He returned to York as a lecturer (1970-77), then moved to Leeds University, where he spent a large part of his career, rising to the rank of professor by 1993. During this period he also taught for the WEA, and was seconded to the Open University (1988-90) as senior lecturer in politics, where he was deputy chair of the team that developed material for the OU undergraduate course on society and social science.

David was then engaged in a deep study of UK economic decline in the 1970s and 80s. This broadened into a comparative study of social and political structures in the UK, Germany, Japan and the Asian Tiger economies, culminating in his influential book Models of Capitalism (Polity Press, 2000), written largely while David was professor of government at the University of Manchester, where he had moved in 1995.

At Wake Forest, David focused on what he called the “Anglo-American condition”, linking political and economic malaise in the US and UK with hegemonic decline and the fall of empires, and arguing for a radically progressive economic alternative.

David married Eileen McKenna, a teacher, in 1991; his first two marriages, to Dorothy Parry and Joan Butterfield, ended in divorce.

Eileen survives him, as do their son, Jonathan, three children from his first marriage, Emma, Ben, and Anna, and two from his second, Edward and me; 12 grandchildren; and his brother, Barrie.

Tom Coates

The GuardianTramp

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