Seymour Melman was born in New York City on December 30, 1917. He studied at the De Witt Clinton High School in the Bronx and received his undergraduate degree from the College of the City of New York in 1939. After graduation he received a travel fellowship and traveled to Palestine and Europe between 1939 and 1940.
Upon returning to the United States he served for two years as the secretary of the Student Zionist Federation. Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he served in the US Army as a First Lieutenant in the Coast Artillery Corps. Afterwards he served on the National Industrial Conference Board. He became a graduate student at Columbia University in January, 1945 and received his Ph.D. in economics in June, 1949. He joined the Columbia faculty that year and was a popular instructor until he retired from teaching in 2003. According to Alexander Cockburn, Melman was under surveillance by the FBI for much of his career, because of his work criticising the military-industrial complex.
Melman was the former President of the Association for Evolutionary Economics, Vice President of the New York Academy of Sciences, co-chair of SANE (Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy), chair of The National Commission for Economic Conversion and Disarmament, and a participant in the Reindustrialization of the United States Project.
In 1976 SANE's New York City conference on "The Arms Race and the Economic Crisis" featured Melman, and won an economic conversion plank in the Democratic party platform.
Melman died in his Manhattan home of an aneurysm on December 16, 2004.
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