It's An Ill Wind Introduction Early Days Education Circa 1941–59 Graduate School, 1959–6 Toronto, 1963–95 Travel Some Conclusions An Addendum Notes References

Ricardo Afterword: A Memoir Continued

Education Circa 1941–59

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.