Friday, August 19, 2011

A Sad Loss to the History of Economic Thought

Warren Samuels, possibly the best post-war historian on economic thought, has died, leaving behind a formidable reputation as an original thinker and a great teacher and motivator for generations of students and tutors. Everybody I have met among US Academe who knew him always spoke highly of him.

Many colleagues across the world who knew him well also consider him as being an unchallenged giant of scholarship and a warm-hearted professor, as is evident from the warm testimonials now appearing across the world from the profession.

I met him briefly in a meeting on the history of economic thought in Fairfax, Virginia in 2008, and heard him speak on the work he was conducting on the “invisible hand”, of all things that was closest to my own interests (as it still is). He made it clear that he was not discussing its origins in the work of Adam Smith but what it had come to meaning in post-war economics.

I spoke briefly at the session – these were early days in what became my own private work on the subject of Adam Smith’s use of the metaphor of the invisible hand. I also spoke with him one-to-one in a lift!

He was kind and courteous, and friendly to a stranger, and recognised me and my name from his session. He was accompanied by his wife and she subsequently spoke to me on another occasion, when our paths crossed during the conference, and she too was friendly and welcoming.

Later I heard several people say that his book on the invisible hand was nearing completion and would soon be published.

Today, I noted that Cambridge University Press, is to publish it in September: “Erasing the Invisible Hand: Essays on an Elusive and Misguided Concept in Economics”. Warren’s reputation guarantees it will become a best seller among historians of economics, and, hopefully, among modern economists too. I shall review it here too.



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