Harry Johnson: A Life in Economics

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Harry Johnson (1923-1977) was such a striking figure in economics that Nobel Laureate James Tobin designated the third quarter of the twentieth century as “the age of Johnson.” Johnson played a leading role in the development and extension of the Heckscher-Ohlin model of international trade, wrote fundamental articles on the balance of payments and later developed the monetary approach to the balance of payments. Within monetary economics he was also a seminal figure who, in a series of surveys, identified and explained the links between the ideas of the major post-war innovators. This book chronicles his intellectual development and his contributions to economics, economic education, and, particularly in Canada and Britain, the discussion of economic policy.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a fascinating account of a larger-than-life figure, with seemingly boundless energy, who not only helped shape international economics in the 1950s and 1960s but also became a missionary for Chicago-style economics in Britain and elsewhere." - Roger E. Backhouse, University of Birmingham

"For 25 years Harry Johnson bestrode the international economics profession 'like a Colossus'. His influence was enormous. This book gives a thorough and very comprehensible account of his hectic life and work. A bonus is its inside picture of two famous institutions: the London School of Economics and the Milton Friedman dominated economics department of the University of Chicago." - Max Corden, Johns Hopkins University

"This fascinating book is a timely reminder of just how important Harry Johnson's work was for the development of late 20th century economics, not just as a body of knowledge, but also and crucially as a single discipline with a global reach. Don Moggridge has a deep understanding of the social and professional environment that helped shape Johnson's attractive but complicated personality and he tells the ultimately tragic story of his life and work with unobtrusive skill." - David Laidler, University of Western Ontario

"Don Moggridge’s exceptional biography brings Harry Johnson alive for those of us who knew him only through his writings and public lectures. With his career spanning the decades of the development of economics as a science in the postwar period, Johnson’s intellectual journey is equally a story of the creation of modern economics, both scientifically and institutionally. From his youth in Canada, to his time in Cambridge and Manchester, to his Chicago and LSE days, Johnson left a rich record of documents, memoirs, and personal connections. Moggridge has woven that material into a compelling narrative, a worthy successor to his acclaimed biography of Keynes. For economists, and historians of economics, and indeed for historians of postwar social science more generally, this is a must read." - E. Roy Weintraub, Duke University

"Highly recommended." - Choice

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Product Details

Meet the Author

D. E. Moggridge has been professor of Economics at the University of Toronto since 1974. He previously served as a Research Fellow and Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge from 1967 to 1975. Professor Moggridge was invited by the Royal Economics Society in 1969 to be an editor of The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes, 30 volumes of which appeared between 1970 and 1989. His coeditor of the volumes was Elizabeth Johnson, wife of the subject of this book. Professor Moggridge is also the author of British Monetary Policy, 1924-1931 (Cambridge University Press, 1992), Keynes (1976, third edition 1993), and Maynard Keynes: An Economist's Biography (1992). He also coedited with Susan Howson The Wartime Diaries of Lionel Robbins and James Meade, 1943-45 (1990) and The Cabinet Office Diary of James Meade, 1944-46 (1990). Professor Moggridge served as President of the History of Economics Society in 1988-89 and has also served as Review Editor of History of Political Economy since 1988.

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Table of Contents

1. Toronto; 2. Antigonish; 3. England; 4. North American postgraduate; 5. Cambridge don; 6. Cambridge economist; 7. Manchester; 8. Chicago; 9. Canada, economic nationalism, and opulence, 1957–66; 10. Money, trade, and development; 11. LSE; 12. Professional life - largely British; 13. Money and inflation; 14. The international monetary system; 15. Harry's Wicksell period; 16. Stroke and after; 17. Conclusion.

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  • Posted June 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

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    Fine biography of monetarist economist

    Professor Donald Moggridge, of the University of Toronto, has written a fine biography of the economist Harry Johnson (1923-77). Johnson focused mainly on international trade, the balance of payments and monetary economics. He was educated at the universities of Toronto, Cambridge and Harvard. He taught economics at Cambridge, Manchester, Chicago and the LSE.

    When at Cambridge, he was very much a Cambridge Keynesian, supporting economic and social reform. For example, in a 1954 paper, he refuted the free trade dogma that if all countries impose tariffs, they all lose.

    Many of Chicago's leading economists were members of the Mount Pelerin Society, founded by Friedrich von Hayek in 1947: Milton Friedman was a founder-member. At Chicago, Johnson imbibed the Chicago dogma of market rationality, treating prices as always good approximations of their long-term values (which handily makes bubbles impossible). But they never tested this dogma. As Moggridge notes, "If the results were inconsistent with the implications of standard price theory, the Chicago reaction was not to alter the theory but to re-examine the data or redefine or augment the variables."

    In 1959 Friedman claimed that the evidence proved that the interest rate had no influence on the demand for money. When David Laidler replicated Friedman's study, he found that Friedman's results were mistaken, and that interest rates did influence the demand for money.

    Johnson also criticised Friedman, noting, "the enormous simplification permitted by a velocity function independent of interest rates. If interest rates do not affect velocity, monetary analysis can be divorced from analysis of the real sector . If on the other hand interest rates do affect velocity, monetary analysis must incorporate the real sector in a general equilibrium model simultaneously explaining interest rates, velocity real income and prices. Moreover this need for a general equilibrium model comprising the real and monetary sectors is what the Keynesian Revolution was about; hence to admit interest rates into the demand function for money is to accept the Keynesian Revolution and Keynes's attack on the quantity theory."

    So the whole monetarist dogma rested on Friedman's mistake. Friedman reacted furiously to the criticism, and Johnson henceforth adopted what he called his 'policy . of avoiding conflict with senior economists - specifically Milton Friedman'.

    In 1967, the Brookings Institution hired Johnson to do a study, 'Economic Policies and the Less Developed Countries', to prepare the USA's negotiators for the 1967 UNCTAD Conference, after their abject failure at the 1964 Conference. In good Chicago style, he said the market was the best way for poorer countries to develop, and that they should use their comparative advantage, cheap labour, to produce labour-intensive goods. Yet he admitted that even so they could not compete with the developed countries: relying on comparative advantage did not work.

    Johnson also promoted the way the British and US economies have been run recently, running down industry, blowing up financial bubbles: "the extra money required does not have to be obtained through a balance of payments surplus . but it may instead be created through domestic credit expansion."

    In sum, Johnson was a conventional believer in Chicago's slavish doctrine that 'markets always know best'. Moggridge admits the swift 'demise of Harry's influence' after his early death.

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