Tuesday, September 09, 2008

40th Anniversary Conference of the History of Economic Thought (HET) Part IV

Professor Roger Backhouse, University of Birmingham, chaired the 5th session, consisting of papers by Professor Mathias Klaes (Keele University) and Professor Mary Morgan (London School of Economics).

I found Mary Morgan’s paper, “‘On a Mission’ with Mutable Mobiles”, and eye-opening account of the initial arrogance (of those initiating it, not Mary Morgan!) of planning economic development in the case of Nigeria in the early 1960s, easily replicable across much of the developing world with equally unsatisfactory –even counter-satisfactory – results.

Wolfgang Stolper, an American economist, arrived in Nigeria to join its civil service as Head of Economic Planning in 1960. His daily diary of what happened in the next two years forms the source of the paper, expertly woven by Mary Morgan into a critique of the ‘optimistic idealism’ of the people who believed that could ‘plan’ the growth of an economy of diverse constituent parts of which little was known of the kind of details necessary for such planning (assuming that they could know what was necessary; the didn't and they couldn't).

The image of the process and what was possible as seen from the top bore little relevance for what had happened and was happening on the ground. At least Stopler did more than look out of his window; he travelled around the country listening to what the local people had to say, and this, plus realising that much of the government apparatus hadn’t a clue about facts, led to his fairly realistic assessment of the likelihood of success.

The last session, chaired by Evert Schoorl, Groningen University, Netherlands (and host for the 2010 HET conference) was particularly informative. Professor William Coleman, of the Australian National University, was an impressive presenter on ‘Trade Unions in the Formulation of the Chicago Alternative to Keynesianism (and the Keynesian alternative to Chicago)’. Both schools of thought left out the trade union issue in their policy considerations. It didn’t fit the Keynesian model and Friedman discounted their influence in the US, while the unions have long been a major political force in Australia.

The paper by Professor Roger Sandilands (University of Strathclyde), ‘Solow and New Growth Theory from the Perspective of Allyn Young and Macroeconomic Increasing Returns’, was for me the highlight of the conference.

It was the only occasion when I contributed a short commen because of the importance of Allyn Young’s 1928 elaboration of Adam Smith’s theory of the division of labour, his disequilibrium approach to the economy, and the sources of continuous growth through markets extending and deepening, and from this process, all along the supply chains, generating further divisions of labour.

Professor Phillipe Fontaine (École normal supérieure de Cachan) presented the last paper ‘Stabilising American Society: Kenneth Boulding and the Integration of the Social Science, 1943-1980’.

The 2009 HET Conference is to be held in Manchester. I hope to attend it.



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