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

Toronto, 1963–95

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’.vii

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 Jaff?, 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.viii 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’ ([1974] 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.ix

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.