|My candle burns at both ends;|
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light!
Edna St Vincent Millay
I can conceive of few academics presumptuous or foolhardy enough to write an ‘intellectual autobiography’ unless invited to do so.iOne must admit to being flattered by such an invitation. Here I am reminded of a report from a colleague a while ago that one of my students had referred to me either as a ‘great’ or as a ‘good’ man, he could not recall which. My response at that time was that into which category one would best like to fall depends on one’s age, so that I still preferred the first. It has now become (almost) a matter of indifference. It is no easy assignment. One seeks to protect a core of privacy; there is a residual subjectivity regarding events and persons that cannot be eliminated; one is obliged to tone things down for practical reasons. Even if one can hope to tell the ‘truth’ it will not be the whole truth – certainly not in thirty-one pages. It must also be said that any linkages that might be suggested between character or experience and professional contribution (and an intellectual autobiography of course seeks out such linkages) can never progress beyond the stage of hypothesis; neither necessary nor sufficient causation is at issue. Yet I myself have learned something from this exercise; perhaps my readers will too.
The present account does not address the so-called New View of Ricardo which has received so much attention over the past twenty years. I have dealt with that matter in a companion piece (Hollander 1995: 1–15). My concern here is with rather more intimate matters. And I shall start near the beginning with the emergence of a theme whose persistence comes as rather a surprise even to me.
My first conscious religious experience occurred sometime before age five when I was warned: ‘Get off that horse, or your father will kill you.’ It was a milk-delivery van in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, in the English Home Counties where my family had been evacuated during the London Blitz. And it was the Sabbath, on which day horse riding – and very much else – is forbidden by Jewish religious law.iiThe formal rationale offered is lest one might break off a branch from a tree, an act proscribed by Torah law (the law as derived by the Rabbis from the biblical texts on the basis of complex hermeneutical rules). But this it seems to me is a fiction, designed to link all rabbinical interventions to the Pentateuch; the essential logic is to prevent behaviour that would damage the spirit or character of the Sabbath. This example can serve as template: swimming, for example, is forbidden for analogous reasons. Thus at a tender age I was inducted into a complex world of social control. The dietary laws are particularly potent as will become clear.iiiStrictly speaking, the restrictions apply only after confirmation (at the age of thirteen for boys) but it was apparently perceived to be never too young to learn. Those who accept the ‘yoke’ full-heartedly enjoy a profoundly meaningful and comforting existence. But many ‘orthodox’ treat the regulations somewhat selectively. My own childhood was a training in ambivalence, as I shall explain.
My father had left Austrian Galicia with his parents and siblings just before 1914 – the males to Holland and the females to Vienna. In 1918 the family joined up in Scheveningen and unsuccessfully tried the diamond business. My father emigrated in 1925 to Britain where he set up a successful clothing factory. He himself had no formal education, but was astute in business and also possessed great intellectual ability, as indicated by his Talmudic competence, attained informally and with extraordinary application at least from his arrival in Letchworth in 1940 until the end of his life in 1991. He was the sole support of his parents and several of his brothers and sisters who in the mid-1930s had emigrated to Palestine. (The one sister who remained behind was murdered in the Nazi clearing of the Jewish hospital in Apeldoorn.) He attached himself closely to religious teachers, relying on their advice in many personal matters; and after our return to London in 1951 he took an active role in the synagogue of a Chassidic Rabbi in his father’s tradition, a scholar of considerable distinction with whom I also studied and whose school my son attended many years later. It is not surprising, given his own background and experience, that my father was far from appreciative of the cultural, even the utilitarian, function of secular studies. Certainly the ‘university’ was suspect in the orthodox community at that time.
My mother in major respects stood at the other pole. She was born in London within sound of Bow bells of immigrants from Galicia, the youngest of eleven children, all except for her born in Cracow. She was educated, of all places, in a German Lutheran school located in east London. She became an accomplished pianist who in the mid-twenties was offered a position by the BBC though forbidden by her father to accept it: ‘Jewish daughters do not play piano for the BBC.’ Yet, strange to relate, her father permitted her to eat milk dishes after meat ‘as soon as she felt hungry’, rather than wait the statutory six (or three or one) hours; here is a pattern I cannot quite appreciate. She was a voracious reader in German and English secular literature with an extraordinary memory. It was in her late eighties that she recommended to me ‘The Well of Loneliness’ by Radclyffe Hall (1928), a Lesbian first, once proscribed in Britain. And she had the sharpest wit and sense of humour. I have been told that at the time of her marriage in 1931 she was more ‘orthodox’ in practice than my father; if this is so then the roles were soon to be reversed. For it was he not she who objected to Sabbath horse riding. Indeed, she was ready to bend the rules. An illustration: the British Rabbinate had issued a ruling that turbot – then thought to be a questionable fish for reasons I need not enter into here – was permitted in wartime. My mother made a simple extension. She would take my sister and myself into the local café for very doubtful cakes on the grounds that ‘there was a war on’, cautioning us to say nothing. I did not at the time appreciate how my father failed to realize that a state of hostilities existed with Germany – everyone was talking about it – but was clever enough to obey instructions.
The adult household was completed by an aunt, my mother’s sister, blind from her teenage years. Her kindly presence counteracted a certain pervasive tension. Yet I cannot afford to be too critical, for the ambivalence and clash of temperaments that I experienced in my parents’ home was later repeated in my own.
I return to the opening episode. It would be painting a misleading picture to leave an impression that the Sabbath was a grey day. It was, for one thing, a day of rest from studying – apart from the dreaded test of the week’s scholarly accomplishments; and there were no injunctions against children’s games. (There was at Letchworth a splendid quarry-like indentation known as the Roman Camp that served as our Sabbath sporting arena.) And paradoxical as it may appear, synagogue decorum is more relaxed the more orthodox the establishment, possibly reflecting a familiarity with and affection for the Deity. The restrictions thus went hand in hand with a surprising degree of freedom, perhaps too much. I also wish to avoid giving an impression that our community was in any way ‘homogeneous’. To the contrary, it was made up largely of refugees from all quarters of Europe each with his own particular traditions, generating clashes of practice and character. Nonetheless, there was sufficient common ground to allow for the maintenance of a vibrant communal life turning about the tiny synagogue.ivThere were other quorums. One was organized by the Sassoon family of Bombay. But this was to us another world.
One obvious consequence of the orthodox practices is to create obstacles to ‘fraternization’ with the locals. I do not, for example, recall ever visiting the homes of my non-Jewish schoolfriends, primary or secondary. This barrier has existed to some extent until the present day. In any event, there was scarcely time for socializing. As I explain elsewhere in this document it is common practice in the orthodox community to put a high premium on competence in Talmudic reasoning. My own training began at age seven in two-hour evening sessions held in Yiddish, though I distinctly recall realizing at the time that it was a premature exercise since I still had difficulty with the prayer book and was not yet comfortable with Yiddish.
I have at hand a family tree relating to my mother’s maternal ancestry which conveys an indication of a very extensive Rabbinical ‘gene pool’, and shows some late medieval links with Karl Marx, which (when I have alluded to them in the abstract) seem, I cannot imagine why, to upset some of my Sraffian friends. Specifically, Marx and I share common ancestors in Rabbi Jehiel Luria II (d. 1470), head of the ecclesiastical court in Brest-Litovsk, Poland; and in R. Israel Isserlein of Cracow (d. 1558) and his wife Dinah Malka (1485–1553). (Students think of Marx as a disembodied spirit, and my chart – which I would happily send to anyone interested in genealogy – should disabuse them.) I might add that my maternal grandmother’s line flows from the great legal codifier R. Moses Isserles of Cracow (circa 1520–72) – a son of R. Isserlein – and his first wife; and the nineteenth-century composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy can be traced back to R. Isserles and his second wife. I mention this connection since Felix’s grandfather, Moses Mendelssohn of Dessau (1729–86), figures large in my pantheon of heroes. Notwithstanding a hostile orthodox reaction on doctrinal grounds, Moses insisted always on the importance of the ceremonial law in practice, that is, on conformity in action. He personifies the encounter between Rabbinic Judaism and the so-called ‘Enlightenment’.vSee Altmann 1973. Another scholar, of the following century, who is sympathetic to me in this regard, is Heinrich Graetz ( 1974). Since I am still trapped in that time warp, Moses’ dilemmas constitute the real thing for me.
My primary secular education (1941–8) was at a small private school in Letchworth run by two liberated and progressive ladies. (I use the term ‘lady’ deliberately; to me it is not a four-letter word.) Those were splendid times, rather easy-going with much attention given to dramatics (Shakespeare in particular), music and exercise with emphasis on country dancing. I worshipped my teachers – a general trait that only ended when I became a teacher myself. There was no interfaith tension whatsoever; Jewish pupils simply left the room when ‘All things bright and beautiful ...’ was sung each morning. School was an oasis – from domestic tensions and also from tension on the street, where it was sometimes dangerous for Jewish children to walk alone because of stone-throwing louts – for Letchworth is in a chalky area with many stones at hand – shouting: ‘Go back to Palestine!’ Ironically, the Royal Navy was at this time placing severe obstacles in the way of this particular solution. I might add too that some synagogue members (mainly the Hungarians) were opponents of Zionism on religious grounds and had no wish to go to godless Palestine.
I am better able to interpret my experiences after discussions with an undergraduate student of Indian extraction whose family had emigrated from East Africa and settled in a small English town. His account duplicates my own. It is also certain that were, for example, some non-Chassidic group to settle in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim quarter they would not be made welcome. Individuals are one thing, groups another; especially if the newcomers are highly visible and successful into the bargain. I stray into a most difficult area, and will say no more except that I think of Britain with deep affection. In a sense, I never left the country in 1959 since, apart from my professional activities, much of my leisure reading revolves about British rather than North American themes. My perspective is perhaps filtered through lenses tinted by those two ladies mentioned above. But there is much more to it than that. Children were affected in the manner described above; adults might scarcely have been aware of any hostility. In any event, the rule of law prevailed.
The transition at age eleven to the local Grammar School proved less satisfactory, for the bullyboys (including a few of the staff) were more in evidence. But the standard of instruction was, on the whole, surprisingly good for so small a town. Physics proved a disaster; this subject was taught late on Friday afternoons and Jewish students were obliged to leave early in the winter months, generating an unholy muddle in my mind regarding the physical sciences. History, fortunately, was not taught on Friday, or I might not be writing this particular record.
By this time (1948–9) most Jewish families had returned to London. Consequently I lost the company of several cousins with whom I was (and to this day remain) very close. So my social life was now extremely limited – almost non-existent in fact, having in mind the obstacles in the way of interfaith contact. A premature seriousness was thus imposed on me by events. My ambition to spend the future as a bus driver (I was quite normal in that regard) was now replaced by more bookish interests. I certainly recall being impressed by the gravity of the atmosphere upon the announcement of the 1949 devaluation; and was exercised by the observation that dried bananas, available in wartime, were no longer to be had for love or money, whereas the reverse held true of racing cycles.
Our own return to London was delayed until 1951, when I attended what was then Hendon County School. There the standard of teaching extended from the very poor – in one case amounting to the copying of remarkably written copper-plate notes from the board (remarkable because the teacher was often drunk) with not a word of explanation or discussion – to the outstanding, especially (as far as I was concerned) in literature and history. I much appreciate the instruction I received from those dedicated teachers, brief as it was. For my formal secondary schooling ended in 1953 at age sixteen, as I shall now explain.
It is customary for orthodox Jewish families to send their sons away for Talmudical training, though not necessarily to the end of entering the Rabbinate. I did not resist this practice for myself, but did take Alfred Marshall with me (having learned of Marshall from an advisor at school since it was expected that I would return to enter the Sixth Form) to Gateshead-on-Tyne, where is located the most prominent Talmudical academy in Europe. I do not know what Gateshead looks like today; but it was certainly not very inviting in 1953. I would not be surprised if the location in a coal mining area was chosen for that very reason, to minimize ‘distractions’. Of course there were distractions. I was tested with one such on the train up in the shape of a nurse from the Royal Newcastle Infirmary; it was not a difficult test to pass considering the large number of academy students on that particular train.
The regime was strict, with relentless pressure to study; but self-imposed discipline pushed me to work sixteen hours a day six days a week – the main term lasting from October to April with no break – and this far surpassed anything imposed upon me. Because it was known that I had the capacity and willingness to work, I was allowed considerable freedom to follow a routine of my own making, a flexibility on the part of the staff which made the entire episode tolerable. Thus, for example, I had permission to swim daily – and this in place of public prayers – provided of course there were no females in the pool (at the unearthly hour I chose to exercise there were no males either). I also read a daily newspaper; and I wore ‘unorthodox’ clothing. For a short period I even had a picture of Joseph Stalin on the wall. (This last was too much for my roommate, so Stalin came down.) I might add here that my admiration for this monster went back much further. In fact, as a young boy – the precise date escapes me – I made my way to the Soviet Embassy in London to make enquiries regarding visitor regulations and vividly recall the stolid faces of the embassy staff staring at me through the windows on my retreat to the gates. I put this infatuation down inter alia to unhappiness with my own domestic situation (the ‘push’ factor) coupled with admiration for the Soviet Union in its defeat of Nazi Germany (the ‘pull’ factor). I did not fully shake off this regrettable attitude until 1968, though at no time was I ever inclined to attach myself to a political party. It was all in the realm of theory.
Despite all this, I fitted in surprisingly well. The average level of intelligence at Gateshead was extraordinarily high. But the training was narrow. There was an absence of any historical dimension, for time is filtered out in traditional method (about which more presently); and bible study and religious law – ethics somewhat less so – were secondary to Talmudic logic with a premium on the devising of innovatory logical glosses. None of this, of course, came as a surprise; I had been brought up on it.
There were certainly those who went beyond the bounds of all reason in their hostility to the twentieth century. I recall one such exclaiming: ‘Einstein! Let his name and memory be erased’; and those whose practice was quite medieval – one roommate wore gloves at night and dipped his right arm up to his elbow in icy water upon awakening (happily after removing his gloves). But such types were a source of entertainment and I regretted there were not more of them to brighten my life. Certainly the Rabbis were not of this sort, and for them I had enormous respect.
My decision to leave Gateshead earlier than I now think was desirable – having in mind the objective of the training, which is to feel at home with any Talmudic text – reflected a concern to assure myself a University place, for there was some doubt as to how long and to what extent my father would be prepared to finance my secular studies. Thus it was that late in 1954 I returned to London to attend (in succession) Hendon Technical College and Kilburn Polytechnic where I satisfied in short order, and with some distinction, the then ‘Advanced Level’ requirements for University entrance. The transition was an easy one: I was self-motivated and hugely industrious; and delighted with the range of young men and women and the mature students from varied parts of the world who were seeking educational advancement outside the regular school system. I was, I think, ready for University.
My only regret, in recalling this period, is the waste of some nine months between the completion of the entrance exams and the commencement of my first academic year at the London School of Economics in October 1956. (My late friend, the economic historian Karl Helleiner, liked to call me a Puritan, and of course he was right.) Those months might have been spent to good purpose back in Gateshead or some equivalent establishment. In fact, I spent them in my father’s factory endlessly sticking labels on parcels. For all that, there was some benefit. I was in the unskilled work force engaged in repetitive specialized acts so that Adam Smith’s pin factory was to have meaning. And I made new friends among my co-workers; I was certainly made to feel comfortable on my necessarily surreptitious visits to their homes.
It was also during this pre-University hiatus that I first read Robbins’ Nature and Significance of Economic Science, though I do not recall who introduced me to it; I may have found it by accident at the library. The idea that I might actually be privileged to see its author, even if at a distance, boggled the mind. That I gave private lessons in economic history, and bought a cat which we called ‘Ricardo’ for a girlfriend, suggests to me that by this time I had decided on the direction I intended to follow.
I turn then to the LSE, whose one hundredth anniversary is currently being celebrated. It comes as a surprise to my students to learn that there were no examinations – none for which we received ‘credits’ – until the end of the second year of the B.Sc.Econ. degree. This could be and often was an invitation to disaster; but it was helpful in my own case since I worked so well under my own steam. I lived in the library and am surprised that my lungs held out, considering the yellow fog that infiltrated the place.
One word describes my attitude to the material in the ‘Economics: Analytical and Descriptive’ course – general economic theory and economic history but especially the classics – ‘romantic’; I was in love with the great economists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. History of economics had a high profile in the course and my burning interest in it was encouraged by adult debate with my teachers, especially Bernard Corry and Kurt Klappholz, in addition to Lord Robbins, and also with fellow students, preeminently David Laidler who arrived at the same time as I did. Don Patinkin’s Money, Interest and Prices, then just published, also exerted an impact. I became convinced at this time that received opinion on Adam Smith’s ‘paradox of value’ was faulty, and held my own when Marian Bowley of University College lectured to students and faculty on the issue.
In economic theory, we received excellent instruction from Kelvin Lancaster (my personal advisor), Roger Opie, S. A. Ozga, Ezra Mishan and G. C. Archibald. In applied economics we had Frank Paish, Henry Phelps-Brown and Jack Wiseman (I can still hear his Yorkshire-accented: ‘What are the implications for policy?’ reiterated at every opportunity). Karl Popper was all the rage. We were fortunate to hear lectures in political theory by Elie Kedourie and the great Michael Oakeshott – who incidentally at around this time was arrested on a Brighton beach for bathing in the nude. (Today on some Brighton beaches it is more likely that he would be arrested for bathing in a costume.) It was J. Potter in Economic History who inculcated what I already realized – that Talmudic method is not always appropriate and might be positively misleading. (I had somehow managed to prove convincingly that strike activity is greatest during depressions.)
My years at LSE would have been happy ones indeed were it not for the pressures emanating from the absolute necessity, as I then saw it, to obtain a First-class degree. For I could envisage no alternative to an academic career and a First was effectively a sine qua non. The tension was hideously aggravated by the strong opposition of my parents to my marriage, for I had found time during a visit to Paris in the summer of 1957 – the end of my first year – to become engaged to the sister of an acquaintance met at Gateshead. Their opposition turned partly on the prejudice (at that time) of Ashkenazic towards Sephardic jews (doubtless reciprocated). This, in my naiveté, came as a shock since my fiancée descended from orthodox Egyptian and Turkish families each of considerable pedigree (one Italian, the other Spanish) and I had been certain of my parents’ approval. They also suspected that I would be incapable of ‘making a living’, an attitude of mind I inherited from them that may have depressed my salary over the years. Since my fiancée insisted on obtaining my parents’ blessing for the union, I was caught in a severe bind; but my determination was unaffected, and my parents ultimately relented though subject to my obtaining a First. Thus it was that very much indeed depended on where my name would appear on the boards outside Senate House, University of London, where examination results are posted.
In the event I got my First (along with Laidler) – though I remained subject to severe insomnia for years afterwards. Rapid wedding arrangements – we were married in Paris by my teacher, my father’s Chassidic Rabbi – were followed by a trans-Atlantic honeymoon on the Queen Mary on my way to graduate school. At this time my wife spoke no English (I sometimes suspect she may have misunderstood my proposal of marriage). The transition for her especially was not to be an easy one.
Before proceeding to the next stage, I must state that Lionel Robbins has been, to my mind, the greatest single influence on my career, as he has been for so many other academics. When he passed away in 1984 I felt that a fixed star in my firmament had disappeared. I still feel the loss. I attended in my third year his inspiring lectures in the history of thought and also his seminar late on Friday afternoons. (This scheduling is of some significance for it obliged me to walk home in the winter months – several miles – and provided me with an unsurpassed opportunity to seep up some London atmosphere.) He was instrumental in my choosing Princeton as graduate school – he was a close friend of Professors William Baumol and Jacob Viner – and in my appointment at the University of Toronto. He gave me moral support and very substantial advice with respect to my researches on Smith, David Ricardo and J. S. Mill. And he taught me (or tried to teach me) how best to respond to critics: ‘Congratulations on letter appearing in TLS,’ he telegraphed with respect to a reply to an unfriendly review of my Ricardo – the letter constituting a revised version, following his suggestions, of an original he warned me not to send: ‘a display of pity yes, anger never.’ He and Iris welcomed me at their home whenever I was in London. His typical kindness is manifest in his personally delivering over several weeks in 1974 a flow of books from his own library – including an 1803 edition of the Essay on Population – when I was restricted to my house in London with a broken leg. Lionel, much later, asked to meet my father, and visited him in the empty shell of his London home shortly before he emigrated to Canada in 1980. It was a most successful encounter. The two elderly gentlemen taking tea together on a packing case makes a picture that I shall always treasure.
As already explained, to be assured of an academic career in Britain in the late 1950s required not a doctorate but a First-class Bachelor’s degree. But it was not to be presumed; so I took out some insurance by applying to two US graduate schools, Stanford and Princeton, after speaking with Maurice (now Lord) Peston who had recently returned from Princeton. Both schools accepted me and I was obliged to choose between them before the B.Sc.Econ. results were posted. I got my First and along with it the Gonner Prize (which included volume 2 of Sraffa’s Ricardo) and a University Postgraduate Scholarship. But I was advised to take advantage of a Fulbright Travel Award and follow up the Princeton opportunity for some formal training. I took the advice, though with no real idea of what this would entail. Certainly it was not then our intention to spend four years away from Europe. One of my reasons for selecting Princeton over Stanford was the presence there of Jacob Viner, whose retirement had been delayed. His course was, as one would expect, first rate, and I still find his notes valuable. But it was necessary not to allow oneself to be intimidated by him. His first question on meeting me was: ‘Who was Hardy Canute?’ And he strongly asserted (quite inexplicably) that there are no biological analogies in Alfred Marshall’s work. He was also intolerant when it came to Marx, whose writings on value he likened to the ink splatterings made by a monkey. But I am privileged to have studied with the author of Studies in the Theory of International Trade, which is surely one of the finest works in doctrinal history ever written.
At the time of my arrival in Princeton there were no formal courses in mathematical economics. I made arrangements with Harold Kuhn, who helped me with Robert Dorfman, Paul Samuelson and Robert Solow; and I used James Henderson’s and Richard Quandt’s text assiduously. (Quandt was my personal advisor and I am indebted to him for his encouragement.) But it was clear to all, and especially to myself as I had suspected since age five – a school report dated July 1942 mentions that ‘Samuel became over-anxious regarding number-work’ but errs by adding that ‘now he derives much pleasure from this subject’ – that I was not cut out to be a mathematical economist.
The choice of dissertation was particularly difficult. I had not intended to proceed to a doctorate at Princeton. The issue did not arise until after the comprehensive examinations, when I indicated to William Baumol, who had kept a kindly eye on me since my arrival, that my wife and I (by then we also had a daughter) planned to return to Britain. He dissuaded me, and I found myself faced with the choice of proceeding either to research in the history of economic thought with little formal supervision – Viner had by then retired – and also no clearly defined project, only a vague wish to write on the British classics, or to some alternative. Fritz Machlup, who had come from Johns Hopkins to succeed Viner, provided the solution. He was then organizing an army of graduate students in a project financed by the Ford Foundation on the economics of innovation. For him a dissertation was one further hurdle to overcome on the way to the doctorate in no more than two years, certainly not one’s magnum opus. I followed his advice to undertake one of the forty-odd studies he had listed; and not being really interested in any of them I selected the first: Investment and Innovation. It proved to be an inspired choice.
At the very outset of my investigation an extraordinary offer by the DuPont Company gave me access to some thirty years of detailed cost and investment data relating to rayon manufacture at several of their North American plants, and also to the scientists and officers who had been engaged in decision-making over that period. I do not recall by what persuasive arguments I convinced DuPont to yield up materials of this richness to an outsider. I was also able to obtain supplementary information from suppliers of materials and equipment. Many days were devoted in the New York Public Library to the Rayon Textile Monthly and Chemical Industries and such like; and I made frequent trips to Wilmington, Delaware (DuPont’s head office) and to the homes of active and retired informants, several of whom showed great kindness to my small family. The wealth of data and information and the acquired knowledge of the production process allowed me to measure the impact of innovation – distinguishing between ‘major’ and ‘minor’ categories – on productivity improvement, to evaluate the degree of capital embodiment required and the extent of patent protection, and to treat related issues in the economics of innovation. The thesis was published with only minor revisions by the MIT Press (Hollander 1965) and to this day is regularly referred to in the widest range of journals.
At the time it pleased me to know that both Adam Smith and Alfred Marshall would have approved of the exercise. And with this single venture into Industrial Organization I obtained my licence to devote the rest of my life to the history of economics. The exercise was of permanent value in other respects too. I had dirtied my hands with real economics; and I was made suspicious of the one-sided Popperian perception of scientific activity with its neglect of the inductive dimension.viI am interested to find a recent confirmation of this suspicion in Papineau 1995.
My initial appointment at Toronto resulted from a series of unlikely misunderstandings. It was a rule at Princeton that graduate students who had a paper accepted for publication would be excused from one of their PhD field examinations; the rule was designed to introduce us to the real world of academia and has since, I understand, been abandoned. It so happened that I had brought with me an undergraduate paper on Marshall’s Representative Firm. Baumol helped me rework it – an incomparable training – and in 1960 it was accepted by the then Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science [essay 4 in this collection]. Shortly thereafter Harry Johnson, speaking to the student body, suggested that if we should have any difficulty publishing in a journal we might try the CJEPS. At the December 1962 slave market held in New York I had a chance encounter with him in the elevator, and plucked up courage to ask him whether he had meant what he had told us, since I was parti pris. He was kind enough to assure me that he had not, and that he had made an inappropriate joke. In any event, he took down details of my work and interests in his famous black book – by this time I had published my second article (‘On Malthus and Keynes’) in the Economic Journal. This he followed up with a letter informing me of an editorial opening at the University of Toronto Press J. S. Mill project, then at the start of what was to be a thirty-year odyssey. The Press replied that there was no opening, and suggested that Johnson might in fact have intended the Political Economy Department at the University. On enquiry, the department chairman, the economic historian Tom Easterbrook, wrote to say that there would indeed be an opening in the history of thought, considering Professor Vincent Bladen’s imminent retirement. Thanking me for reminding him of the department’s requirements, Easterbrook invited me for an interview with Bladen.
There were thus no advertisements, phoney or otherwise; no unbecoming bedroom encounters with departmental representatives; not even a workshop to address. Bladen liked me and I liked him and that was that. There were, of course, letters of recommendation but in one respect these worked to my disadvantage. As I later discovered, they were so flattering that Easterbrook sniffed out an element of economic rent in the salary he had been prepared to offer: ‘Why, with such letters, would SH wish to come to Toronto?’ – a very Canadian reaction; ‘we can reduce our offer.’ I am sorry I never had the opportunity to let him know that I had had the better of him; for I could have been hired for considerably less. It was a quantum leap from my $2,000 student grant to a salary of $7,500.
I had had also at this time, thanks to Lord Robbins, an offer from University of Hull back home; I visited Franklin and Marshall College in the beautiful Pennsylvania Dutch countryside; and I gave a test lecture on J. S. Mill at Austin, Texas, where there was an opening in the history of thought. But the Toronto prospect was the most promising, and I did not explore these or any other possibilities further. And I have now been at Toronto for thirty-two years.
The present Department of Economics was created in 1982 when it was carved out of the Department of Political Economy. Political Economy at its inception in 1888 comprised economics, political science, law (until 1930), history (until it gradually emerged as an independent subject over the years 1895–1910); and to it were added commerce and finance (in 1909) and sociology in 1932 (until 1963). The breakup of the Department – more a Faculty – was largely instigated by economists, notwithstanding the considerable decentralization that had evolved among the three remaining disciplines, on the grounds that it was professionally unwise to be distinguished by an appellation which was easily misunderstood, thereby dissuading potential faculty and students. It was sensible to set up a department of economics on a par with other North American departments, allowing it to acquire (or was it to maintain?) its natural and rightful place in the sun as the ‘Harvard of the North’.viiFor a history of the department, see Drummond 1983.
Those who wished to retain the political economy umbrella did so for a variety of reasons. My own opposition to the disestablishment reflected a concern that the diversity and tolerance that had characterized political economy would be undermined by the break. These features had worked greatly in my favour since my arrival, allowing me to teach and do research in the history of economics without let or hindrance and without having to pretend that I was engaged in some other more useful activity. (I have recently encountered a ‘computable dynamic model’ of some eighteenth-century propositions in theory – rational reconstruction with a vengeance – that yields nothing beyond the results stated so clearly in the original prose.) I might mention at this point that my initial plan – once the DuPont study was at the publishers in 1964 – had been a volume on classical economics. This I did not achieve until 1987, for it became clear very soon that each of the great economists would require a book (if not two) of his own.
I had been engaged by Bladen to continue a tradition according a central position, on intellectual principle, to the history of economic thought in undergraduate training. W. J. Ashley was first Professor of Political Economy (1888–92) and was instrumental in assuring the appointment of James Mavor, with a similar historical bias, who held the professorship, as Professor of Political Economy and Constitutional History, until 1923; Harold Innis joined the department in 1921 and was Head from 1937 until his death in 1952; C. R. Fay held a chair in economic history from 1921 until 1930 when he returned to Cambridge; Bladen arrived in 1922 and taught a compulsory honours course in the literature of political economy for several decades. (It is indicative of the character of the department that the economics of socialism and Karl Marx figured quite prominently in the curriculum of the 1920s and 1930s.) It was with the hope of continuing this tradition on his imminent retirement that Bladen recommended my appointment. But to my good fortune, he never really retired. He had much to offer on Smith – my Smith is dedicated to him – and Mill; and for several years we shared, to mutual advantage, teaching responsibilities in our subject.
I have had occasion to describe in print the expansion of economic thought at Toronto by the early 1970s (Hollander 1975 [essay 2]). Things were certainly looking up then. The presence in the Department of Brough Macpherson, author of Possessive Individualism, and in English of Jack Robson and his team of Mill researchers, provided further attractions. At this time too William Jaffé, after retirement from Northwestern University and a series of visiting professorships, took up an appointment at York University which he held for the last decade of his life, from 1970 to 1980. I took full advantage of his linguistic, editorial, scholarly and theoretical skills.viiiFor a memorial evaluation, see Hollander 1981 [essay 3]. When I think of his struggle for recognition of our field – that he was obliged to continue with annual appointments until age eighty-two is itself suggestive – I count my blessings.
My worst fears were not in fact realized with the above-mentioned split. The new department of economics lived up to a commitment to respect the traditional strengths. A third-year undergraduate course in the history of thought is still compulsory for economic specialists. And graduate history of thought has flourished, and this despite subtle pressures on students to work in more ‘relevant’ fields. Indeed, economic development and history of thought have an enviable record as far as concerns the generation and placement of doctoral students. Also indicative is a ‘breadth’ requirement for all economists in the PhD programme that can be satisfied by a year’s course in economic history or the history of economic thought.
This last sentence should now be written in the past tense. It came as a complete surprise to me in February this year to find a proposal in my mail box from the graduate coordinator recommending the elimination of the economic history/history of thought requirement as part of a package designed to correct a perceived failure of the graduate programme – precisely the complaint that had led to the creation of the department in the first place: ‘Our graduate programme can and should be better. We have difficulty attracting the best domestic students and, at the other end, have some difficulty placing students. Our students currently take a full-year course in economic history or history of thought in either the second or third year of the programme. In my view, the opportunity cost imposed by the current requirement at Toronto is too high ... so that requirement should now be eliminated.’
As I see it, the proposal was more than the product of a single individual’s prejudices; it reflected a perspective on training in economics shared by the leadership and possibly by a majority of the faculty – of this I cannot be sure since no vote was ever taken – coupled with the wish to imitate programmes elsewhere. In any event, the department imposed the change without feeling it necessary to provide any reasoned substantiation of the assertion that the ‘opportunity cost’ of the requirement was ‘too high’ – to face up to Sir John Hicks’s position that ‘economics is more like art or philosophy than science, in the use that it can make of its own history’ (1983: 4) or to Friedrich A. Hayek’s view of the social sciences as subject to an ‘essential complexity from which the natural sciences are free’ ( 1989); nor did it see fit to offer any explanation of the academic success of those who had had the courage to write their dissertation in our field. To be more accurate, there was one substantive response: ‘Do you think,’ a colleague asked of me, ‘that it is our function to produce educated doctoral students? Our function is to produce welders.’ I am grateful to him for coining so graphic a description of what is going on in the profession – notwithstanding the periodic laments by presidents of the American Economic Association – of which the recent events in Toronto are a mere reflection.ixThe notion of a single-term requirement – a Canadian term is considerably shorter than a US semester – was rather casually floated. But in my opinion serious treatment of our subject would be impossible in anything much less than a Canadian academic year.
The abandonment of any pretence to keep to the understanding of 1982 is clear. Its delay by some thirteen years can perhaps be partly explained by the high visibility of the history of thought, as manifested in my election to the Royal Society of Canada in 1976 and my appointment to a University Professorship in 1984 – largely an honorific title at Toronto (bar some excellent cucumber sandwiches once a year) but more tangible in other major North American institutions – and more generally by the recognition by Canadian academics of the traditional strengths of the department, as reflected, for example, in a recent External Evaluation. But perhaps the dictat was inevitable once the old guard had retired or approached retirement.
In opposing the change, I did not stand quite alone. Gerry Helleiner – Karl’s son – and Sue Horton, both development specialists, protested vehemently. In my opinion, the welding syndrome certainly threatens the viability of economic development as a subject treated with due allowance for history and institutional arrangement; and economic development thus treated has been quantitatively the single most important subject in the department over the past two decades in terms of doctorates. In sharp contrast was a deafening silence from the economic historians. Notwithstanding the relatively large numbers of faculty in that subject, it had attracted not a single doctoral student for a decade and no graduate student had chosen to satisfy the PhD requirement by way of the economic history option. There was nothing for them to lose by acceptance of the proposal.
In and of itself the new regime is not necessarily an immediate threat to the history of economic thought at Toronto; MA and PhD students may still take the course if they wish, and students may still choose to write a dissertation in the field. But the message directed to incoming students is clear. (It was, interestingly, from among the students that much opposition to the change emanated.) And most revealing of the effort to replicate the ‘top’ American schools (perhaps more immediately the ‘top’ Canadian schools) is the exclusion of economic thought from long-run staffing plans for the department. Students who might wish to work in the history of thought will in the near future be obliged now to do an empirical study of DuPont plants – if they can obtain the data.
Only a short while ago I wrote in response to a proposal that the history of economics be transferred to the history of science programme that, though I welcomed serious contact with historians of science,
we would be failing to meet our educational responsibilities were a strengthening of those ties to reflect a deliberate ‘break-away’ from economics rather than a deliberate attempt to have the best of both worlds. I am not yet ready to see economists as unredeemable Philistines. Should this prove too optimistic, the case may have to be carried over the heads of the individual departments to the university and even beyond. In the meantime our duty is to encourage students of economics, graduate and undergraduate, to take the history of their subject seriously. They cannot do so if no one is there to provide them with the opportunity and set an example.Hollander 1992: 214
All of this has been superannuated by events. The Graduate School showed no interest in the changes and did not insist on a reasoned justification. (The University is in fact in the process of relinquishing much of the authority hitherto exercised by the Graduate School to the departments.) My argument had taken for granted the rule of reason. I had forgotten my Kant: ‘der Besitz der Gewalt das freie Urteil der Vernunft unvermeidlich verdirbt’ (the possession of power ruins the free use of reason).
I stand by my conviction that major benefits accrue to both undergraduate and graduate students in economics who have some familiarity with the great literature of their subject. Apart from a better comprehension of economics qua analysis there is scarcely a single current policy issue that did not receive attention from brilliant minds in the past. Economists cannot afford to neglect this vast mine of intelligent discussion. That our subject has attracted some of the brightest students at Toronto and that they have set up their own spheres of influence, satisfies me that it has not all been a waste of time. As for my own written output, it will be little affected, for my intellectual contacts have always been almost entirely extra-departmental.
But it’s an ill wind. Sad as it may be, the refusal of my department to build on its traditional strengths has had the positive effect of making me begin to consider available options, including that of early retirement from Toronto – though not retirement from scholarship, for I still hope to complete my plan of proceeding to a study of the economics of my distant relative Karl Marx, by all indications a task of several years. That I should leave Toronto vertically rather than be carried out feet first is not an unpleasing prospect.
To return to happier days. It has been my good fortune to have been able to take leaves of absence approximately every five years on average; and to have travelled frequently as guest lecturer. Each location has attached to it in my mind some long-term research project. I connect Florence and London with Ricardo; Jerusalem with Mill; Jerusalem again, Melbourne (La Trobe University) and Auckland with Malthus. These expeditions have proven rewarding, both personally and professionally. For one thing, my daughter and son benefited hugely from their experiences in Italy, Britain and Israel. (Both have settled in Israel.) As for myself, the leave taken in Britain in 1974 provided the opportunity to work with Sir John Hicks and seduce him from the fix-wage interpretation of Ricardo – a high point of my career. But of all my expeditions those to New Zealand in 1985 and 1988 have pleased me most, thanks to Tony Endres and his colleagues at Auckland. The University’s Department of Economics has been a true pleasure to work in.
Without my wife at my side these ventures would have been all but impossible, considering the above-mentioned restrictions, which become particularly onerous when foreign travel is involved. On the whole we have experienced great good will on the part of our hosts, who have attempted to find practical ways to overcome the difficulties – nicely thwarting one of their purposes!
Occasionally there have been less understanding encounters. My neighbour at one conference dinner in 1982, a woman of considerable academic stature, asked me if I thought the Deity cared whether I ate a steak such as she had on her plate. I could only reply that ‘God alone knows’. It scarcely seemed worthwhile to explain that adherence to ancient practice does not necessarily imply backwardness; or that, from my perspective, God did not come (immediately) into the picture. (The cost of that particular dinner was shared equally among all participants, for I could not possibly protest on my own behalf; my hard-boiled egg cost me more than the equivalent of $30.) I recall also the embarrassed chairman who had to kick his colleague under the table when the latter began to mock some orthodox Jewish academic for surviving on bananas when he travelled, unaware that one such survivor was seated opposite him. And there was a perverse interpretation, offered by an otherwise very sensible observer, of my refusal to drink the wine that was being served at some dinner as an indication that I was ‘on the wagon’, a charge repeated to graduate students at an American institution and thence relayed to me, for the academic world is small and gossipy. The Rabbinical ordinance dictating my refusal at that time does not, however, extend to all spirits – my illustrious ancestor R. Moses Isserles has some quite ‘liberal’ things to say on the matter of wine itself – and the individual in question must have believed that I had failed in my effort to ‘dry out’ when he observed me imbibing on some other occasion. All of this is small beer; but it does add variety.
At the most general level it seems to me that my practices have saved me from myself. The Sabbath day has protected me from some of the effects of my workaholism, by providing at regular intervals that minimum of tranquillity required for the maintenance of sanity; that my insomnia afflicted me on all nights except Friday is revealing. (And I don’t much care for horse riding anyway.) Unfortunately, that workaholism itself can perhaps be traced to the same source. Apart from the danger of wasting time, which was always a standard refrain, there is the drive to prove oneself in a ‘hostile’ environment – a much recorded sociological phenomenon – the hostility, however, emanating in my case from within as much as from without the community.
As for specifics, I have already mentioned that traditional Talmudic scholarship is ahistorical; history can be dangerous, for it threatens the notion of a seamless whole whereby the forefathers, some three and a half to four millennia ago, are perceived to have obeyed the Law before it was handed down at Sinai.xOn the matter of time in this context see the brief but instructive comments by Ephraim Kleiman (1994) and Ismar Schorsch (1994). And, of course, there is the Creationism that is taken for granted.xiAt the Gateshead academy the nineteenth-century ‘watchmaker’ argument was used to support the notion of Creation (just short of 6,000 years ago). Fortunately, neither this nor other features of the belief system took centre stage. If then I have devoted myself to history it must be in spite of, not because of, my training unless by way of reaction. I do, however, admit to finding the notion that time moves in all directions touching and have recently learned much in this regard from the writings of my paternal grandfather, an adept bible critic who practised a sort of ‘bounded deconstruction’ whereby anything goes in biblical exegesis provided the outcome satisfies the orthodox codes of law and morality (I. M. Hollander, 1956–7). But only on the day of rest, in small doses and after a glass of whisky, do I permit myself the luxury.
My hostility towards ‘deconstruction’xiiThe best account known to me is by Jonathan Lynn (1994, chapter 19). and my inclination towards ‘positivism’ requires elaboration. I am old-fashioned enough to seek to isolate what someone patently sane intended by his utterances; and believe the position to the contrary, embodied in the dismissal of authorial intent, to constitute a threat to the very concept of a university.xiiiThe worst may be over in this age of financial constraint, but only to be replaced by a new threat from a perspective on knowledge not in terms of education but as means – we are back to the ‘welding syndrome’. I suspect that my stance has been reinforced by the training in textual interpretation I received almost since birth, though not my grandfather’s variety, which is too modern for my liking. That same training has led me, I believe, to avoid premature recourse to charges of inconsistency. And it might also have generated a bias towards emphasizing continuities in intellectual development, though (I hasten to add) not to the extent of perceiving them where they do not exist. I must justify this latter qualification. At one time I subscribed pretty much to Piero Sraffa’s reading of Ricardo (Hollander 1973: 14, 186); and also perceived J. S. Mill as riddled with inconsistency in maintaining features of both ‘Ricardianism’ and ‘neoclassicism’ (Hollander 1976). My continuity position developed with the evidence; it was not ready made.
That I am greatly attracted to the utilitarianism that runs through the British classical school might seem paradoxical, since that perspective was, of course, designed as a counter to natural law and other varieties of ‘absolutism’. Yet Rabbinical Judaism has a pervasive utilitarian component, as illustrated by legal devices to allow interest payment and receipt, and – my favourite – by a nice ‘Malthusian’ injunction against sex in marriage during periods of famine, notwithstanding the general rule to be fruitful and multiply. One problem has been to allow innovations without threat to authority and social control; the solution is to represent them not as responses to specific contemporary problems, but as the drawing out of implications to be found in the scriptures.xivTwo examples of interventions which tighten rather than loosen the reins will be found in note 2.
It has been said often enough that my work is ‘controversial’. This is so, and perhaps appropriately, for controversy (in the best sense of that word) is the essence of the exegetical procedures in which I have been trained. Moreover, life at the interface of my ‘two worlds’ may well tend to encourage a certain independence of mind. I stand by the optimistic title of this memoir.
I told Mr Johnson that I put down all sorts of little incidents in it [the journal]. ‘Sir,’ said he, ‘there is nothing too little for so little a creature as man. It is by studying little things that we attain the great knowledge of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible.’Boswell 1950: 305
My first effort at autobiography has generated friendly and positive responses for which I am grateful. I take this occasion to add a point or two by way of clarification.xvI should also add a note on my Toronto career which so much preoccupied me in the memoir. In the summer of 1996 faculty members in my age group were offered the proverbial golden handshake on agreeing to early retirement. I signed a futures contract to leave at the end of the 1997–8 academic year. And I acted wisely and with prescience; for my graduate course, that had flourished for years generating a number of wonderful doctoral candidates, no longer has students thus undermining my raison d’être at this institution.
I wish to emphasize first, that my comments on the absence of history from my course of Talmudic training (above, p. 10) refer specifically to the particular curriculum characterizing the traditional academies. I was not commenting upon the role of history in Talmudic literature in any other sense. It is also essential to specify that the general approach at Gateshead reflected the logical and shrewd style characteristic of the old Lithuanian academies, rather than the scholastic and sophistic style of the Polish Talmudists. Thirdly, some readers did not quite appreciate the significance of my allusion to turbot as a ‘questionable fish’ (above, p. 4). I do not blame them.xviThe issue turns on the biblical injunction: ‘These you may eat of all that are in the waters: all that have fins and scales may you eat. And whatsoever has not fins and scales you may not eat; it is unclean for you’ (Deutronomy XIV. 9–10; also Leviticus XI. 9–10, 12). Questions arise because of the uncharacteristic scales of the European turbot (Scophthalmus maximus or Psetta maximus). Other varieties of turbot are permitted by all branches of orthodoxy. To give some flavour of how serious the issue is in the orthodox world – and to correct a minor error – I quote from an account of decisions taken by the London ecclesiastical court (Beth Din) in 1822 and 1954:
Shortly before the High Holy-Days of 1822 the Beth Din received a communication from Newcastle-upon-Tyne asking if the fish ‘called Turbot’ could be eaten by Jews. The Chief Rabbi answered in the affirmative and stated that permission to eat the particular sea-water fish had been authorised in two responses – one issued by his own father while rabbi in London, and the other by his father’s illustrious brother, Rabbi Saul of Amsterdam. Hirschell stated that they had both based their decisions on documents in the Beth Din of Venice. This ruling of 1822, issued by the Ab Beth Din of London, was accepted by British Jewry for the following 132 years. However, an event took place in London during 1954 which made it apparent that the then members of the London Beth Din were unaware of Hirschell’s ruling. At a festive dinner at a London hotel the fish course was turbot and one of the distinguished guests accused the caterer of serving trefa (non-kosher) fish. A piscatorial furore ensued, and for the following few weeks countless so-called experts gave their views for or against the kashrut of the fish. The climax came on November 2, 1954, when the Beth Din issued a ruling that turbot was not to be included in the list of kosher foods. The ruling was unique in that the then Chief Rabbi and his dayanim overruled the decisions of two former heads of their own Beth Din!In the memoir I illustrated the complexities of the dietary rules by this particular instance, because it is one that I recall vividly from my childhood. But the example casts light on an entire life-style and the broader picture should be kept in mind. Thus the fact that turbot was not generally acceptable in my parents’ home confirms a stricter degree of observance than that enjoined by the London court at the period in question, and reflects the great stringency of the European immigrant communities. And the relaxation during the war years was not (it appears from Simons) on the part of the London court as I thought – since until 1954 that court was permissive in its ruling – but rather on that of the stricter independent orthodox communities.Simons 1980: 68xviiI thank Professor Judah Sanders of Concordia University (a Letchworth cousin) for bringing this episode to my attention.
I turn to a related matter. The clash between the Enlightenment philosophy and Rabbinic Judaism on which I put considerable stress (above, p. 6) may be nicely illustrated by an extraordinary apology to readers from the Editorial Board of The Jewish Observer, an orthodox American journal, for having published a piece on Moses Mendelssohn, albeit one that had identified his ‘fatal flaws’: ‘We see that we were indeed in error in publishing an article on Mendelssohn. For this we apologize to our readers. All the more are we pained by the indication from the responses that the article was interpreted as a watering down of the traditional opposition to Mendelssohn’ (1987). This response will (like the turbot case) help convey some of the background which I sought, perhaps too briefly, to reconstruct.
To summarize: I accept for myself the regulations of my religion but with a strong preference for lenient rulings; for me a good rabbi has always been one who can say ‘yes’. I reject the intolerance that sometimes attaches to (or rather seems endemic in) organized ‘conservative’ religion, and strenuously oppose any sort of theocratic organization – Mendelssohn’s position of course. I have been asked by readers of the memoir how I can reconcile these two orientations. I can only answer in the words of the late Benny Hill: ‘With considerable difficulty.’ For all that, I have not yet fallen off the tightrope and, God willing, can stay up into the foreseeable future.
This leads me to a matter which I deliberately avoided in the memoir, but which I now think has to be brought into the open notwithstanding the risk that a charge of paranoia will be brought against me. I allude to the irrational (and, it pains me to say it, even malevolent) nature of a few of the reactions to my researches on Ricardo and the Classics.xviiiThe following comments draw upon an address – an after-dinner address – which I gave to the conference on Time and Economics held at Glendon College (Toronto) in June 1996.
A little background from another field (epidemiology) will set the stage. Peter Duesberg, a professor of molecular cell biology at Berkeley, takes the minority view that AIDS is drug-induced, not virus-induced (Horton, 1996). What does the scientific establishment do to a scientist whose work is out of step with majority opinion? Cut off his funding. And peer pressure reflecting scientific consensus can be crippling so that ‘few scientists are any longer willing to question, even privately, the consensus view in any field’ (Duesberg, in Horton 1996: 20). Duesberg was badly hit by the establishment.xixThe dire consequences for those who do not toe the party line may also be illustrated from literary theory (Anon. 1995: 30–3). I myself have never suffered serious consequences for my position on the classics. Imagine then my astonishment to read a referee’s report relating to a recent request for research funding from Ottawa. The referee seems to have read my memoir: ‘Now of course, both Hollander and his critics have the right to be heard. But his request for funds to support a further series of articles defending his view of classical economics seems to me quite unreasonable. It reflects his tendency towards research overkill, behind which is a Talmudic mind (he is Jewish, and he did spend a year as a trainee for the rabbinate) and a fierce conviction that by sheer effort and willpower he can ensure that his view will prevail.’ He then proceeds with the original argument that since I would do the research anyway, why waste the state’s precious funds: ‘his very large research output and writings in response to critics seems to demonstrate that he is perfectly capable of defending, reiterating, and elaborating his views without further outside research assistance’. There was all the more reason to put the Research Council’s investment ‘to better use’, since ‘[s]ome time between his Ricardo (1979) and his Mill (1985), most of the leading English-speaking specialists on classical economics’ – he cites six by name – ‘expressed their disagreement with Hollander’s aim of proving his claim “that the Ricardo–Mill theory ... is directly in line with modern doctrine”’.
One must not lose perspective. Duesberg’s position, if correct, has societal implications of enormous importance; the interpretation of Ricardo is inconsequential in comparison. And fortunately I received my funding, the grants committee dissociating itself from the hostile report, and placing me high in its ranking. (The Canadian government is serious and sent my modest proposal to five referees, who covered the entire spectrum of opinion.) I raise the issue only to show how an effort was made to deny funding for my work on the grounds that I must be wrong since an (alleged) majority of English-language critics says I am; and how incensed the referee must be to make no attempt to disguise his regrettable biases and to fall back on the perverse case that a productive scholar is to be penalized for his productivity.
Though the referee had apparently read my memoir, he got it wrong in one respect: I was never a trainee for the rabbinate as I made it clear (above, pp. 8–9, 10). But my training did instill in me a respect for the texts, particularly an appreciation of the necessity to read in context. It is disrespect for the texts that is the source of the myth-making that bedevils the history of economics. A sad instance close to home is provided by what masquerades as a ‘review’ of my first collection of essays. In the Introduction to that collection I quote a list of ten assertions regarding Ricardo which had been attributed to me by a hostile critic and observe: ‘I actually go a long way with Professor [Mark] Blaug. Many of the assertions are false (especially those containing “never” or its equivalent). But these I do not recognize as my own, claiming for myself and attributing to Ricardo a modicum of subtlety and sophistication’ (1995, 2; emphasis added). Now in his response, the intemperate critic rips my three-sentence statement apart, suppresses the second and third sentences and leaves me exposed to ridicule: ‘Professor Hollander sets out my list of ten of his iconoclastic assertions about Ricardo, every one of which I claim are false, and calmly concludes: “I actually go a long way with Professor Blaug” (p. 2). He can say this because his method ensures that even his own interpretative conclusions exhibit the dictum that “anything goes”’ (1996: 23). Such a spectacle on the part of an established scholar is enough to make one weep. As for a lament at the close of the tirade that ‘reading Hollander is always irritating and sometimes dangerous to one’s mental health’ and akin to ‘wallowing in mud’ (24), perhaps I can make amends. I would be happy to provide details of a promotional notice appearing in Canada’s national daily under ‘Country Inns and Outings’: ‘“Dirty Weekend” takes on a whole new meaning ... Relax your aching muscles in our new Total Immersion Hot Moor Mud Baths. Clip this ad and receive two Mud Baths for the price of one ...’ A dip in our Hot Moor Mud Baths might help repair the damage to my critic’s mental health for which he holds me responsible.
With respect to another recent episode, I readily plead mea culpa; the excitement of research led me to a gross error that has now been corrected (Hollander 1996). I allude to my report at the January 1995 meeting of the AEA in Washington of the possible emergence in the Sraffa archives of Ricardo’s famous ‘Lost Papers on the Profits of Capital’. Given my certitude that the hand was Ricardo’s, I was faced with two possibilities. That Sraffa, who must have known of this paper, chose to suppress it. That Sraffa must have mistaken Ricardo’s hand for Bentham’s, for which reason he did not publish the piece in the Works and Correspondence. (The document is described by Sraffa as a ‘paper probably in Bentham’s hand-writing on the effects on profits of cultivating successive qualities of land’, and also as ‘Bentham on Rent’.) The first of these possibilities, I dismissed immediately. (I now believe the document to be in James Mill’s hand, and possibly the Bentham item reported by Sraffa, Mill acting as Bentham’s amanuensis.)
Why do I raise this particular issue? It is because the original attribution to Ricardo engendered a charge against me of dishonesty, indeed of lèse-majesté, by an outraged defender of the faith. His widely-circulated censure uses at the masthead the Chinese proverb: ‘The Truth cannot be erased. Neither can Falsehood’ (italicized in the original), and it reflects his high dudgeon at an imaginary implication:
Hollander suggests that Sraffa might have not recognized the manuscript to be in Ricardo’s hand, and assumed it to be by (probably) Bentham. This however must appear so incredible to any reader in his right mind that another explanation naturally suggests itself: Sraffa must have suppressed the paper. And the fact that it was not found among Ricardo’s papers in Cambridge University Library, where it actually belongs, but among Sraffa’s papers, might make this explanation appear (superficially) plausible; moreover apart from considerations relating to Sraffa’s integrity and scholarship ... one would deem him an idiot if he suppressed a manuscript of Ricardo and then left it in his own collection of autographs.
It did not cross my critic’s mind that honest mistakes are possible and that at no time did I question Sraffa’s editorial integrity. The interested reader might refer to de Vivo 1996 to find the complaint – though by then wholly irrelevant – alluded to in print.
It is evident from these episodes that the history of economics is highly charged with emotion – or should I say with ‘religious’ fervour? And with the fervour comes a danger of intellectual fascism against which one must be ever alert, for liberty requires eternal vigilance, as we were taught by the Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1790. Nevertheless, my own experience makes me hopeful – it is possible to swim against the tide – for we are blessed with a variety of research centres and outlets for publication. I am not sure though that my inveterate habit of responding to critics has been to good purpose. James Boswell would have doubted it: ‘[I]t would be an endless task for an author to point out upon every occasion the precise object he has in view. Contenting himself with the approbation of readers of discernment and taste, he ought not to complain that some are found who cannot or will not understand him’ (1961 : 223n). But though I was, I now admit, childishly naive in taking it for granted that rational debate is always welcome, I very much doubt that I will ever wholly abandon belief in the dictum: de la discussion jaillit la lumière (though I shall be more discriminating in future). I have my Talmudic training to blame for that. And fortunately we do have a model to emulate:
And now my dear Malthus I have done. Like other disputants after such discussion we each retain our opinions. These discussions however never influence our friendship; I should not like you more than I do if you agreed in opinion with me.That too, though Ricardo might not have realized it, is the Talmudic mode.Ricardo to Malthus, 31 August 1823; Ricardo 1951–73, IX: 382