SIR ALAN PEACOCK - "A THOROUGHLY GOOD MAN"
Following my post (2 August) on the death of Sir Alan Peacock on Saturday, I receved a number of messages from his former colleagues whose lives were nudged by him similarly to the way he nudged mine over many years. I have posted one below by David Simpson with his permission, who was formerly a Professor of Economics at the University of Strathclyde. He too visited or telephoned Alan in the past few months and discussed with him in the usual two-way manner (he always had much to say and abundant patience to listen, as he did with others).
David’s appreciation shows Alan his best, teaching complex ideas, socialising with his students and colleagues, and pointing to doors he had opened for them to pursue their careers and interests, and above all showing aspects of Alan’s work as a professional economist in many diverse environments at high-levels and moments in history that matttered then and still do now.
“When Alan Peacock swept into Edinburgh in 1956 to take over the Chair of Political Economy from Sir Alexander Gray , he was at 34 the youngest professor of economics in Britain. (His contemporary and friend at LSE, Harry Johnson, was just one year older.) Alan’s arrival blew open the doors and let in the light to a Department that still hankered after the Gold Standard and regarded Keynes as a speculator, if not a charlatan. Those of us who were lucky enough to be students at that time will never forget the changes that Alan made. The ever reliable textbooks Cairncross and Silverman were consigned to the dustbin and replaced by Samuelson, national income analysis took over from the methodenstreit in the centre of the curriculum, and the Department’s name was changed from Political Economy to Economic Science. No matter that with the benefit of sixty years’ hindsight, these changes may be seen to have been in the wrong direction, we felt we were swimming towards the mainstream of modern economic thought. At that time demand managemt was just beginning to influence economic policymaking, and economists were in demand. Alan took great pains and used his networking skills to the full to advance the careers of his students and junior staff individually. That he was often absent lecturing in America, or in Africa measuring the national income of countries like Tanzania and Nigeria at the request of the Colonial Office only added to our excitement. Bright young American economists came to the Department to give seminars or to spend their sabbaticals. It didn’t matter that Alan barely had time to prepare his lectures, which consisted largely of equations scrawled on the blackboard –also exciting. What was important to us students was that his enthusiasm and generosity of spirit and commitment to us shone through.
His involvement with students did not end at the door of the classroom. He was a willing participant in student social events, and played an active part in the university’s musical activities. Notably, I remember, in a student production of the opera La Belle Helene. In later life, even after he had left Edinburgh, Alan continued to be a pillar of support and advice for those of his former students who had chosen academic careers. Many friendships were formed as a result, and all of these friends will feel that a very bright light has gone out of their lives. Alan was a man of extraordinary breadth of activities: wartime sailor, university professor, campaigner – with Jack Wiseman he pioneered the concept of education vouchers in the UK, senior civil servant, university vice –chancellor, Chairman of a Royal Commission (into the BBC) , scholar- for a while he edited International Economic Papers, for which his skills in German and Italian were invaluable, social entrepreneur – with Gerald Elliot he founded the David Hume Institute- composer and performing musician. But above all he was a thoroughly good man.”