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Harry Johnson: Portrait of a Polymath

Harry Johnson: A Life in Economics by Donald Moggridge

Harry Johnson: Portrait of a Polymath

Deena Khatkhate

I
n the post-Keynesian era in economics, Harry Johnson has been a sui generis economist who traversed a wide swathe of economics in all its variegated aspects – microeconomics of Ricardo, Jevons and Marshall, macroeconomics of Keynes and post-Keynesian and neo-Keynesian economists, pioneer footprints in development economics, innovative refinements of the Heckscher-Ohlin trade theory and theory of tariffs to take it to a formal theory of trade and growth, which was further enriched by Jagdish Bhagwati, Paul Krugman and Avinash Dixit. He was schooled in the Cambridge tradition of economics of Keynes, Dennis Robertson, Richard Kahn, Nicholas Kaldor and Joan Robinson, but transcended it, leaving his own mark on post-Keynesian economics. Johnson was a tenured professor at Chicago University, sharing much of the evolution of monetary theory in which Milton Friedman played a stellar role and yet kept his distance from Friedman in the important tenets, contributing in the process to monetary theory of balance of payments. He moved in a periphery of political economy, building on J K Galbraith’s contributions and carried it forward with his “Political Economy of Opulence” and its “Social Policy” where he highlighted the imperatives of equity and social justice. Despite his neoclassical approach to economics, he was savvy enough to take to a much neglected book of Maurice Dobb, the Cambridge economist committed to communist doctrines, “to make an original story out of it” in Dobb’s own words. With his prolific and prodigious contributions to economics, Harry Johnson earned accolades from Nobel Laureates like James Tobin, T W Schultz and F A Hayek who did not even share his basic beliefs. Tobin (1978) said that “Harry Johnson bestrode our discipline like a Colossus. A Nobel Prize? He was the people’s choice within the profession”. Schultz (1978) averred that Harry Johnson “more than

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review article

Harry Johnson: A Life in Economics by Donald Moggridge (New York: Cambridge University Press), 2008; pp 469, price not mentioned.

anyone else took up the tremendous task of clearing the tangled thicket of halftruths in economics”. A phrase from Saul Bellow tells it all – “to live, to breathe, to be, we must get clear of the rubbish and the clichés”. Hayek’s tribute is even more remarkable in view of its libertarian tone. He thought Johnson “transcended economics by being more than an economist, avoiding the stigma that an economist who is only an economist is likely to be a nuisance if not a positive danger.”

Unparalleled Output

Harry Johnson’s published output is almost unparalleled except that of Keynes. During his short lifeline, there were 526 professional articles, 35 books and pamphlets, 150 book reviews, and 27 edited books or special issues of journals, leave aside his significant journalistic forays in Spectator, Listener, Encounter, etc. Thereby hangs a story. An American journalist, hooked on numbers went on asking economists in Chicago how many papers they published. One of them approached was George Stigler, a Nobel laureate who had only 70 to his credit, as against Harry Johnson’s

526. When this was pointed out to Stigler by that journalist, he replied with some pique and sarcasm that “Ah, but mine are all different” (Bhagwati 1977), suggesting that Johnson was repeating his ideas in diverse places. This was a below the belt knock. As Bhagwati, one of his illustrious students, a collaborator and fellow traveller in ideas in trade theory rightly remarked that “Harry rarely, if ever, published in different places without adding new insights, however small. His mind was ceaselessly active, turning things around endlessly: there was always a new wrinkle.”

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The impact of Harry Johnson’s articles, apart from the profusion of citations early in his career was refl ected in various collections of readings, the major component of this genre being the classic American Economic Association’s series of the works of the academics. Johnson’s contributions to the AEA’s Readings in International Econo mics (1968) represented a high w atermark to be rivalled only by those of Paul Samuelson. Again, he was cited on an average of 249 times a year, second only to Samuelson. In “International Trade Finance: Frontiers of Research” brought out by Peter Kenen, Johnson’s work was mentioned in every chapter except one. In the bibliographies, his work appears 32 times. From the perch of apotheosis, the appreciation of his majestic intellectual performance, however, waned towards the end of his life. In the volume, Understanding Interdependence: The Macroeconomics of the Open Economy brought out by Kenen in 1993, there were only three references to Harry Johnson’s work – two to “Towards a General Theory of the Balance of Payments” and one to “The Case for Flexible Exchange Rates, 1969”, despite the fact that in that field his contributions were seminal and wide-ranging.

The story is no different in regard to the economic textbooks. Richard Lipsey, a prominent trade theorist, used for his class, Miltides Chacholiades’ International Trade Theory and Policy (1978) for which Johnson had written a foreword where “The number of page citations put him fourth after Ohlin, Heckscher and Samuelson”. In a second version of the same text, he “ranked third in page citations only after Keynes and James Meade”. There was a sharp turnaround in the 1990s. In the Foundation of International Macroecono mics by Maurice Obstfeld and Kenneth Rogoff, there is a solitary reference to H arry Johnson’s work. The only exception to this declining Harry Johnson citations was in a textbook by Bhagwati, A Panagariya and

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T N Srinivasan, Lectures on International Trade (second edition, 1998) where the chapter bibliographies contain 33 references to 25 separate publications by Johnson, including two with Bhagwati himself. The same held true in respect of his seminal contributions to monetary economics including his well-recognised contribution to the origination of the mone tary approach to the balance of p ayments.

Does this imply that Harry Johnson, though a prodigy during his student days and highly productive in his 30s, dazzled only to fade away in a limbo? Or else, were his contributions mainly a critique of the existing theories without original ideas and that he only synthesised them? Is the citation, which is cyclical in nature, necessarily a right metric to assess the originality of ideas in social sciences? This is a grey area where defi nitive judgments are diffi cult to make. Moggridge has made a convincing argument that “over time, innovations on the frontiers of a subject, if important, become well within the mainstream of the subject. They become incorporated in the common knowledge of practitioners and end up in textbook often without their originator being acknowledged.” Thus, the reason for the decline “is the progress in the field over 30 years since his (Harry’s) death, and it could be argued that some of this partly reflects Harry’s infl uence.” Moggridge also pertinently points out that those ideas endure and citations escalate if they are christened after their progenitors. As examples, he cites the case of Rybczynski whose only article reverberated for long, as his theorem therein was named after him. And so are the cases of the Stolper-Samuelson theorem, the Fleming-Mundell model, IS-LM once known as the Hicks-Hansen diagram; Harry Johnson’s name, too had been associated with the Harrod-Johnson diagram and the Johnson-Cournot-Nash equilibrium. But much to his misfortune, neither of the Harry Johnson-associated theories resonated in the literature.1

Averse to Promotion

Another possible reason for Harry Johnson’s getting off the radar might be that he was averse generally to promote his own contributions or for that matter, worry too much about situating them in appropriate places where they would be noticed or given priority. Finally, it is unfair to single out Harry Johnson for judging his stupendous c ontributions by the number of citations. By that criterion, the Swedish School’s contributions to economics and those of Kaldor, Kahn, Dennis Robertson, Joan Robinson would also be considered as passé. In the last few years, with frequent conferences and seminars across academic institutions and globally, an artifi cial “feedback loop” for citations is built up as participants often refer to each other’s papers and ideas in their writings.

It is therefore essential that Harry Johnson be evaluated on a different trajectory than by the number of citations which change with fashions. His has been a multi-dimensional academic career – as a teacher inspiring students and colleagues alike by engaging them in intense discourse, thereby creating what he ingeniously called “social and physical geography” around academia conducive to creative thinking, as equal partners with the high and mighty in economic discipline like Keynes, Kahn, Friedman, Schumpeter, Hicks, Hayek and others, which led to twists and turns barely noticed before in the existing theories; as a guardian angel, sowing seeds in the brilliant young minds around

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him, which blossomed into a modern trade theory; as a reformer in teaching at the major centres of learning like the London School of Economics (LSE), Chicago and Manchester Universities, not to speak of the universities in his home country, Canada, and most of all as one who assiduously worked to create the right attitudes and congenial intellectual atmosphere in developing countries like India and Pakistan by publishing some of his important articles on trade and monetary policy in their non-refereed journals.

Harry Johnson, after his fi rst degree in Canada, moved to Cambridge again for the undergraduate Economics Tripos, as the latter had a halo and lustre as a great university of the iconic Keynes. He was, of course, one of the most brilliant students with top honours in the Tripos along with I G Patel. Maurice Dobb, his tutor in Jesus College, had a very high opinion about his talent but he qualified it, curiously enough, that Johnson “certainly has alpha touches; but while he is sure-footed and very competent, he may possibly lack that touch of originality necessary for a consistently first-class performance”. Harry Johnson’s view on Dobb were equally ambiguous. “Dobb is a good supervisor”, he said “knowledgeable but not a good lecturer”. Johnson’s admiration for Dennis Robertson was unqualified. “Robertson’s lectures” he opined “were brilliant but one had to know enough economics in order to understand them”. However, Joan Robinson aroused mixed reactions. As he told one of his former professors in Toronto, “she lectures in a monologue and has a rambling way, which confuses her English students, apart from being polemical and political”. He later slightly modified his view of her, calling her lectures “exciting”. Once Robinson started her lecture in a rather flat monotone, “well it is very diffi cult these days to lecture on economic theory because now we have both socialist countries and capitalist countries!” Harry Johnson thought “Gosh, what a wonderful new idea!”

Harry Johnson was made a member of the Political Economy Club in 1945 when it was revived by Robertson, on the basis of his brilliance in his Tripos and discussion of varied topics. On one memorable occasion in 1945 when Keynes presented his paper for discussion at the Club, “The

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Balance of Payments of the United States” which was a harbinger of the birth of the Bretton Woods twins, Harry Johnson was invited to open the discussion. He did it “through a rather lame argument to the effect that given the availability of lots of farm labour in the United States, it would take some time before the pressure of d emand for industrial products would force up the level of wages because labour would be drawn from the farms”. According to Harry Johnson, Keynes was very kind when he picked up his point and “made something of it...one of the secrets of his charm was that he would go out of his way to make something fl attering out of what a student had said...On the other hand, when a faculty member got up...and that time Joan Robinson stood up and attempted to argue with him – he simply cut their heads off!”

The election to the fellowship at King’s College put Johnson clearly in the Keynesian camp, which until then revolved around Kahn, Kaldor, and Joan Robinson. Paradoxically enough, Johnson’s exit from orthodox Cambridge Keynesianism took place in Cambridge itself and not in Manchester, where he was a professor, as David Laidler (1984) claimed. The fi rst echoes of his dissent from Keynesianism were found in five lectures that he delivered in Karachi 1956 on “Monetary Theory and Keynesian Economics” published only later in 1962. His parting of ways with Keynes’ economics began with his feelings about its weaknesses as a theory of prices and they got entrenched in his psyche after reading A J Brown’s The Great Infl ation and Milton Friedman’s The Quantity Theory of Money. Johnson’s other writings on the varied branches of economic discipline make one wonder whether he was, despite his protestations to the contrary, ever an orthodox Keynesian.

Dissatisfied with Cambridge

Though Johnson thrived at Cambridge, he was not enamoured of it even at the start which was corroborated by his conversation with Thomas Balogh on his fi rst arrival in Cambridge. He felt that “...the war left a big gap, in terms of both people and research...Richard Stone’s Department of Applied Economics has been the only active element in economic research”. This

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view was reinforced over time when he preferred to accept a chair in economics in Manchester University. He wrote in his autobiographical notes that he “became increasingly dissatisfied with Cambridge – my colleagues seemed stuck in dead monetary economic controversies, or immersed in growth models with little relevance to the real world and was getting intellectual stimulation from his students at Cambridge and American visitors”.

What was even more disconcerting to Harry Johnson was the degeneration of economics as taught in Oxbridge in particular and the UK in general into a “political subject” because of the “practice of applying political criteria to the assessment of scientific ability and achievement”. Perhaps the unexpected outcome of this, according to Harry Johnson was to enhance the position of mathematical economics in UK because it is a way of appearing to do economics without actually doing anything controversial or committing oneself to believe in what one is doing. Cambridge turned to mathematical economics when concentration on real economics became blocked by Cambridge politics. His sarcasm was epitomised in the statement, “Mathematical economics was compatible with avoiding either right-wing or left-wing political commitment”. Perhaps this was a blessing as ideology however annoying it might have been, inadvertently could result in mathematisation of economics and its scientific rigour. His odyssey to Cambridge thus testifies “to the process of it coming to the end of a long period of glory with a thread running from Marshall through Pigou and Keynes” as noted by Bhagwati (1977).

With a slow fade out of Cambridge, the star of Harvard was rising and it was natural that Harry Johnson was drawn to it. But the Harvard of 1947 when he joined it had its own blues. It was reeking with anti-Semitic phobia which barred economists like Paul Samuelson from its faculty. Some non-entities like H H Burnbank, the chair in economics, was “a negligible quantity as a scholar and economist”. But it was in a “change mode”, with Joseph Schumpeter as a star performer who was joined later by G Haberler, A Hansen, and W Leontief, who opened the economics department to fresh winds of theoretical developments

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elsewhere, particularly in continental Europe. But Schumpeter’s infl uence was limited as he was intellectually isolated in view of his lack of interest in senior colleagues and the atmosphere vitiated after Schumpeter had pronounced that the second world war should be “avoided at all costs because it would destroy the European economy and culture”. But Schumpeter along with Leontief and Haberler and, to some extent, Edward Chamberlain facilitated “green shoots” of economic ideas at Harvard.

Harry Johnson was most excited and stimulated intellectually by Schumpeter. As he wrote in his memoirs, “Schumpeter was the only truly culturally and intellectually interesting man there though he had a wide streak of charlatanism; and other professors and students had considerable contempt for him, whether for the one reason or the other, one could not be sure.” His other influential teachers were Haberler, Hansen, Leontief and John Williams. During his apprenticeship, as a research student at Harvard, he made his debut as economist by writing his fi rst theoretical articles “An Error in Ricardo’s Exposition of His Theory of Rent”, and “Demand for Commodities Is Not Demand for Labour”. Both published in top journals like Quarterly Journal of Economics (1948) and Economic Journal (1949).

However, Johnson did not write his dissertation for a PhD degree, though he completed his course work and passed his comprehensive. But by some quirk of fate, the Harvard PhD regulations changed in 1957 which permitted an award of PhD on the basis of articles in refereed journals and books. He leapt at the opportunity, by assembling his thematically connected articles on trade and growth and submitted them for the degree. His oral examination, a necessary part of the process, was conducted by James Duesenbery, Paul Samuelson and Franco Modigliani. The only other instance of obtaining a PhD without submitting a dissertation was Jagdish Bhagwati’s. When he was offered tenure at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the lack of a PhD was overcome by taking his few published seminal articles on international trade as a substitute for a dissertation. By a strange coincidence, the exception to the standard procedures for awarding PhD degrees in America by two famous universities were made in regard to two intellectual soulmates – teacher and student and in the same specialised field of trade theory.

This raises, on a general plane, an important question whether a dissertation is at all necessary for awarding a PhD degree. From the countless PhD degrees, only a few have contributed to the advancement of knowledge at least in economics as is evident from rare publication of articles based on PhD dissertations in the reputed academic journals. This was precisely the point Arthur Smithies of Harvard had raised a few years ago and had suggested that a doctorate could be awarded if a student submits two published papers in leading refereed journals.

Though Harry Johnson cherished highly his tenure as a don at King’s College, his discomfort about Cambridge’s intellectual

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milieu was getting worse. In the fi eld of knowledge, he tended to be nihilistic which was attributed by Richard Lipsey to his Cambridge experience after 1949, accentuated by a fierce debate on welfare economics, provoked by the challenging thesis on welfare economics of Jan de Graff. It reached a tipping point in 1953-54 because of the treatment Milton Friedman received from the grandees of Cambridge, when he visited there. As Johnson recorded in his letter to Friedman, “I shall recall with shame the deliberate rudeness with which you were cold-shouldered by my colleagues at Cambridge during your visit here”. His meeting with Friedman was, “(a) traumatic intellectual experience for myself and the only two other Cambridge dons who were willing to expose themselves to the moral risks involved and ultimately brought me as a pilgrim to Chicago”. Johnson happened to be invited around this time by the University of Manchester, being impressed by his performance in lectures on “Economic Expansion and International Trade”. But his stint at Manchester University was all too brief though challenging and intellectually productive. He was still harbouring for an invitation from Chicago which materialised in 1959. He joined Chicago, a luminous centre of economics with a long line of illustrious economists like Tjalling Koopmans, Frank Knight, Lloyd Metzler and the ever dynamic Milton Friedman.

Souring of Relationship

Though his relationship with Friedman was cordial initially when Harry Johnson was drifting away from the Keynesian way of thinking, it began to sour later. The incident which almost destroyed his relationship was accidental and had nothing to do with personalities. Harry Johnson and Jagdish Bhagwati published a joint paper in Economic Journal, March issue of 1961 on “Notes on Some Controversies in the Theory of International Trade”. The last section of this paper was wholly Johnson’s contribution. In a footnote to that section, he dealt with Friedman’s assertion and Egon Sohmen’s alleged proof that “equilibrium is necessarily enclosed by stable equilibrium points in an unstable foreign exchange markets”. Harry Johnson referred, in this context, to Sohmen’s contribution

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with derogation to the effect that “it illustrates the extent to which non-sequitur-and ignoratio elenchi can be accepted as valid argument if the conclusion purportedly reached is of suffi cient propaganda value”. This infuriated Friedman who felt that it amounted to “bullying by Harry of a lesser economist (Sohmen)” and he wrote to the Economic Journal that “he told Johnson that he ought to be ashamed of himself and that he owes you a public apology.” This unsavoury episode rankled with Johnson. Besides, he was not entirely at home at Chicago University, according to Edward Shills, a professor there because of the “rough and tumble of discussions in the economic department and he was thinking of throwing up his post there to go to John Hopkins”. He was also chagrined by the flippant and off the cuff bloviations by the Chicago faculty members about the Keynesians. He gave vent to his feelings in his address to the Chicago Graduate Student Political Economy Club in 1960. “At least in some quarters in Chicago, a Keynesian is a weak and spine-less creature, who blindly follows the master along the path of error, refusing to modify or develop the system of thought Keynes started or to test it in any way, or to consider the allegedly conclusive evidence thrust before his nose by Chicago economists”.

Harry Johnson, though generally identified as a monetarist in Friedman’s image and in Chicago tradition, was not on the same wavelength with Friedman in regard to the main contours of monetary theory. He was less impressed with Friedman’s work. He thought that Friedman’s signature thesis The Optimum Quantity of Money had a “misleading title, since the analysis referred to theoretical side issues suggested by past controversies and its intrinsic concern for quantification of potential welfare gains which is provided only fragmentarily and inconclusively; the need for the rather embarrassing ‘schizophrenic note’ could have been avoided by presenting the argument more frankly as a logical exercise.” He criticised Friedman explicitly before the British audience in his “The Keynesian Revolution and the Monetarist Counterrevolution”, and Hove report.

Harry Johnson was offered a chair by the LSE which meant commuting between Chicago and London, which he did with

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gusto and enormous intellectual energy. He was instrumental in a radical reform in the 1960s, of the teaching methods and economics curricula at the London School. He felt a Msc programme had a questionable utility except as “a topping-up of fourth-year arrangement for British undergraduates” and a PhD degree “operated as elsewhere in Britain on the standard ‘master-apprentice’ model in which the aspiring candidate attached himself/herself to a supervisor willing to take on the topic proposed by the student. There was also the ambiguous position of the PhD in the British job market in the 1960s”, meaning thereby that “it was a sop for second rate foreigners”. As Bernard Corry whom Johnson quoted put it “If you could not get a job in less time than it took to complete a British PhD, there is something wrong with you, and once you had a job, why bother with the PhD?” This situation was in sharp contrast to the American postgraduate education, which led to a spate of research in major disciplines across all universities, leaving the British system of education in some disarray which continues even to this day.

Journal Editor

As a teacher and research guide Harry Johnson is well known but as a journal editor he is not sufficiently known. He was a journal editor par excellence; he did not care where the articles came from – famous economists, friends or just new entrants in economic research fi eld. He first came, in 1949 on the advisory board of editors of the Review of Economic Studies (RES). He made it his principal motto unlike many other editors, to know what was going on in the profession and to use that knowledge to nurture aspiring authors and improve their output. Harry Johnson lived up to his mission as exemplified by his treatment of the works of Kelwin Lancaster, Richard Lipsey and Tad Rybczynski. When Johnson was told by Lipsey in common room conversation that his and Kelwin’s ideas were being dressed up in different guises, he immediately asked them to “publish them immediately”. Then Lancatser and Lipsey wrote the famous article, “General Theory of the Second Best”, improving it with an exhaustive survey of literature as suggested by Harry Johnson

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which then was published in the RES. This article has come to be now one of the classic papers on the subject. Again, Lipsey recalled that Johnson cajoled him to write down his ideas on trade diversion and welfare and to rush it for publication even when his own article on the same topic with a similar theoretic frame was already submitted to the RES. As luck would have it, both Lipsey’s (in Economica) and Johnson’s articles appeared almost simultaneously. The latter’s generosity and his intrinsic instinct to promote new talent are rarely matched in a fi ercely competitive academia where “Publish or Perish” is the only mantra to establish priority in ideas. His mentorship of the young economists was again displayed in the case of Rybczynski, when he told Johnson about the result he had obtained in course of working on his thesis at LSE. Harry Johnson was excited and pressured him to publish it; this is the famous “Rybczynski Theorem”. Incidentally, this was the only paper Rybczynski ever published, giving him “one of the highest ratios of fame to published work”. Harry Johnson was aware that publication of articles in refereed journals is often an elaborate and a protracted process and for that reason, he stressed the importance of seminars, particularly for the youngsters, where new ideas could be aired and discussed before they were published.

Selfl ess Scholar

In a profession where new ideas are not easy to emerge and a jealousy of possession runs amok, Harry Johnson stood out as a selfless scholar, ever willing to celebrate new economists with a flair for originality. Max Corden who acquired notoriety as a muck-raker and nit-picker, though himself a reputable trade theorist, wrote in his review of Harry Johnson’s “Aspects of the Theory of Tariffs” in the EJ, 1972 that he gives an impression that “the main ideas of his ‘Optimal Trade Intervention’ article come from the Bhagwati-Ramaswami paper but anybody comparing the two papers must find Johnson’s paper a great advance.” Harry Johnson far from being fl attered by this unsolicited compliment swiftly r etorted that

I do in all probability overdo my no-originality, while recognising other people’s work, but it is likely that I learned it from Dennis Roberson. But new ideas are scarce in our business; whereas we are all trained how to give formal expression to one when we see it. And I would rather be known as someone who appreciated his colleagues’ originality than as one who stole their ideas and made excessive claims for originality on his behalf.

He further added:

…the two central propositions in his paper which Corden referred to, were derived from discussions with Jagdish Bhagwati and particularly from his brilliant joint article with V K Ramaswami – to these two authors belongs the credit for reducing a mass of ad hoc arguments concerning tariffs to a simple application of second best welfare theory – and that his paper elaborates more fully on the infant industry argument and adds two propositions about non-economic arguments for protection.

Arvind Panagariya (2006), prominent among young trade theorists fi nally h ammered the nails into the coffi n of C ordon’s slander campaign. He, drawing on the main tenet of scientifi c discovery as defined by D Patinkin, showed that B hagwati-Ramaswami’s contribution gives “a central message” unlike even James Meade on this particular issue.

There are numerous stories about Harry Johnson’s impeccable integrity, fairness and objectivity in assessing the merits of articles in journals. He was invited to write a review article by the EJ on James Meade’s “The Balance of Payments”. He did it but his review provoked the ire of the big wigs in the British academes like Roy Harrod and Lionel Robbins. Austin Robinson who was then was one of the editors of the EJ, came under heavy pressure to withdraw the article on Meade, “I am having a great deal of diffi culty over your review of James Meade”, Robinson wrote to Harry Johnson, “Harrod has reacted violently and pleads with me to withdraw the review, allow the book itself to be reviewed by someone else”. Robinson, however, suggested a few changes, mainly cosmetic to assuage the feelings of Meade’s friends and the article was eventually published. When this was brought to the notice of Richard Stone, Harry Johnson’s well wisher and admirer, he said,

your main point goes too deep for tampering to be of any use. Meade who is a good friend of mine, is a liberal, rational and i ncorruptible above everything. It is a sad fact of life that such people are often ideologically b iased, though it is the last thing in the world they would want to be.

Such were the vanities and verities of the venerable social scientists!

Harry Johnson was not happy about how EJ, one of the top-most refereed journals in economics was managed editorially. When Keynes and Harrod were at its helm, “refereeing, extremely rare and idiosyncratic under Keynes and still rare under Harrod, only started to become a norm

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Call for Papers

Conference and Ph.D Workshop on “Frontier Issues in Technology, Development and Environment”

(Annual Conference of IASSI hosted by MSE) (Venue: Madras School of Economics, March 19-21, 2010)

The Madras School of Economics (MSE) is hosting a three day conference of Indian Association of Social Science Institutions (IASSI) on “Frontier Issues in Technology, Development and Environment”. The conference is also supported by the Forum for Global Knowledge Sharing (Knowledge Forum). The conference will have two components:

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    Last date for submission of title and abstract – January 15, 2010 Last date for the receipt of Papers – February 9, 2010

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    under Carter.” Its editorship had a bias, as it was overloaded with editors from Cambridge and he suggested that a greater diversity should be introduced in the choice of editors. His long association with several academic journals over the years, convinced him that the editor should always keep his “interests in economics out of the editing, as regards economic ideo logy, though not as regards standards of what is useful and important scientifi c work as distinct from theoretical curiosa or persuasive non-scientific essays”. His own experience as a journal editor showed that

    the majority of articles deserve only a quick editor’s opinion saying that they are unsuitable for the journal either inherently or by virtue of subject... Submission is a screening process; editorial and referee time should be reserved for articles that promise eventual publication in the journal.

    His pronouncements on these issues testify to the high quality of the American journals in recent times, which left the British journals far behind in quality and originality.

    Amusingly enough, Harry Johnson was hoisted with his own petard when a book, Monetary Approach to Balance of Payments, edited by him with Jacob Frankel, was sent to the Journal of International Economics (JIE) with an introductory essay requested by the editor. When Bhagwati, then editor, chose Frank Hahn as a reviewer of the book, Harry Johnson, fl aunting his high principles, protested the choice of a reviewer. “I am unhappy about that” he wrote to Bhagwati, “because I have reports of his behaviour as a journal referee, where he could not be relied upon to read the articles before he specifi ed how it should be rewritten or rejected, and because I was horrified by what he did in his review of Milton Friedman’s Optimum Quantity of Money.” Bhagwati stuck to his guns of not changing the reviewer of the book. He sent Hahn’s adverse comments on Johnson’s paper accompanying his book, to which Harry Johnson, replied in anger and sarcasm that

    This is the first time I have encountered any journal editor who thought that by commissioning an article he obliges the commissionee to devote his time to producing drafts of articles, which the editor in question is not only free to reject out of hand if anything in the article does not please him,

    Economic & Political Weekly

    EPW
    december 19, 2009

    but to keep on writing drafts on non-subjects advantages for implementation and econo
    dictated by the editor until the editor takes a mising on s o cial experiment.”
    shine to publish it. Donald Moggridge, who acquired fame
    However, his letter to Bhagwati re when he edited some of the volumes of
    mained a draft letter never sent having Keynes’ complete writings has done a re
    probably realised that he overreacted. markable job of limning Harry Johnson’s
    Harry Johnson eventually revised the pa multifarious and polymathic life, drawing
    per which was published posthumously in on his own memoirs and autobiographical
    the August 1977 issue of JIE. notes and his other papers spread among
    Harry Johnson had a lighter side; leaving many academic institutions, supplement
    a dense and rigorous style of an economist, ing, whenever warranted by making selec
    he often indulged in spoofs – humorous, tive use of papers by economists including
    common-life episodes, and quirky phrases, Keynes from the archival centres of King’s
    to make serious points. Some of the papers and Jesus colleges, Cambridge and the LSE.
    of this genre, he wrote, when elected as a Harry Johnson’s intellectual reach went
    member of the Cambridge Conversation far beyond theoretical economics in dif-
    Society, commonly known as the Apostles. ferent silos; he was involved in debates on
    Some of these papers which survived had practical economic, monetary, banking
    the titles such as, “People Who Live in and international monetary issues in the
    Glass Houses Don’t Have to” (1951), “When UK, US, Canada and in the international
    Do I Take My Wife to the Movies” (1953), fora. What makes this biography entranc
    “Un-enthusiasm as a Way of Life” (1953). ing and enthralling is Johnson coruscat-
    The first of these, “dealt with proper ing intellectual persona, his interface with
    means to overcome ideological biases, the cluster of brilliant economists – young
    making a strong plea that instead of ad and old – and his straddling across various
    mitting one’s biases one should aim at ar schools of thought without being ensnared
    riving at truth that does not involve ideol by any of them. Harry Johnson’s saga has
    ogy”. The fact that we are all subject to been beautifully encapsulated by Mog
    our own ideology means, he says there, gridge in this captivating biography.
    “that we all live in glass houses. While
    we are free to throw stones at other’s The author thanks Anand Chandavarkar for
    houses, all we can achieve by doing so is his perceptive comments on an earlier draft of
    the housing shortage!” this review article. Usual disclaimers apply.
    The second paper was actually about Deena Khatkhate (dkhatkhate@aol.com)
    democratic decision-making – the possible worked in the Reserve Bank of India and then
    divisiveness of stating positions strongly in the International Monetary Fund.
    as against the possible ineffi ciencies of
    being prepared to go along with the general Note
    consensus. Hence, the question in his 1 In this context, one can recall how, the concept of “Real Interest Rate” was attributed for a long time
    metaphor, “Which is the better course of action – when I suggest a trip to the to Irving Fisher; Chandavarkar (1988) fi rst discovered that the concept originated before F isher’s work, but not its authorship is now traced
    movies to my wife, should I tell her I would to J B Clark (G Ackerlof and R Shiller (2009)).
    like to see the thriller or should I tell her I
    would like to see the movie I think she References
    would like to see?”. In the third paper, he tried to argue Ackerlof, G and R Shiller (2009): Animal Spirits (Princeton, USA: Princeton University Press). Bhagwati, J ( 1977): “Harry G Johnson”, Journal of
    through a narrative of a mock incident with his brother, that I nternational Economics, No 7. Chandavarkar (1988): “B P Adarkar and Keynes: The Ganges and the Cam”, Economic & Political
    un-enthusiasm had a lot to be said for it as far as reacting to new ideas, leaving W eekly, 22 October. Hayek, F A (1978): Quoted by Schultz at “Harry J ohnson Memorial Meeting”, Chicago.
    aside the nature of new ideas themselves. Laidler, D (1984): “Harry Johnson as a Macro
    Un-enthusiasm was probably more effi cient economist”, Journal of Political Economy, August.
    as a technique of learning or digesting new ideas and inte grating them with the old, given one’s limited mental capacity. Moreover, un-enthusiasm may be a socially useful Panagariya, A (2006): “Bhagwati and Ramaswami: Why It Is a Classic”, The World Economy. Schultz, T W (1978): “Harry Johnson Memorial M eeting”, Chicago. Tobin, J (1978): “Harry Gordon Johnson, 1923-77”,
    sieve, selecting those changes which have Proceedings of the British Academy, 64.
    vol xliv no 51 33

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    Dr. Rammanhor Lohia : His Life and Philosophy

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    Economics After Marx

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