Thirty Years of Economics: UWA and the WA Branch of the Economic Society from 1963 to 1992
The University of Western Australia
DISCUSSION PAPER 09.18
Thirty Years of Economics: UWA and the WA Branch of the Economic Society from 1963 to 19921
Abstract: This paper overviews the evolution of economics at the University of Western Australia (UWA) in the thirty years to 1992, with attention given to the leadership of professorial staff, fragmentation in the vision for the economics program and the role of research and research training in that program. The study also considers the place of the Western Australian (WA) Branch of the Economic Society of Australia in economics in this State. Notwithstanding some significant fragmentation within the UWA economics department, which had to be confronted when developing a unified view on the direction of the economics program, the thesis of the study is that the department met with considerable success as it worked to re-balance its program. In regard to the WA Branch of the Economic Society, two main issues have emerged: the success of the Shann memorial lecture, which is undertaken in partnership with UWA; and a progressive reduction in the participation of senior UWA economists in the administration of the Society’s WA Branch.
This paper examines two themes related to the evolution of economics in Western Australia between 1963 and 1992. The primary theme concerns the development of the economics program at UWA. The secondary theme concerns the WA Branch of the Economic Society of Australia, with particular reference to the Shann memorial lecture and the contribution of UWA Staff to the Society’s WA Branch.
The development of the economics program at UWA in the thirty years to 1992 was marked by a mix of inertia and particular views developed in isolation, which lead to some fragmentation in the department of economics. By 1987 the department had been reviewed and recommendations were made to redress the imbalance in the program. But notwithstanding these problems and challenges, the main feature of economics at UWA is its improvement and success in the course of the review period. In this paper most, though not all, attention is directed towards the role played by professorial staff because they oversaw much of the education program and/or guided and undertook research. As a consequence, Ian Bowen (economics and demography), Reginald Appleyard (demography and economic history), Douglas Vickers (financial markets and economics), Roger Bowden (applied economics) and Kenneth Clements (demand analysis and international economics) feature more prominently in this paper than other staff.
For ease of exposition, the primary theme is presented in three parts. Section 2 examines the first fifteen years (1963 to 1977), mainly dealing with the forces for long term change that led to an excessive prominence of economic history units within the economics program and an undervaluation of research by staff. Section 3 examines the second fifteen years (1978 to 1992), pointing to the factors that led to a review of the economics department in 1987 and the successful changes made immediately prior to, and after, that review. Section 4 includes some general comments on UWA economics graduates and raises a few miscellaneous matters that are anecdotal in character but still provide some context.
The secondary theme of this study is examined in a single section of the paper. The place of the WA Branch of the Economic Society of Australia in WA economics is examined with reference to: the significance of the Shann memorial lecture, UWA’s decreasing participation in the WA Branch of the Society (other than through co-convening the ‘Shann’) and the increased role of economists from ‘new’ universities, especially Curtin University of Technology and Murdoch University.
2 Economics at UWA: 1963-1977
In 1963 the economics program at UWA was headed by Professor Ivor Ian Bowen (MA Oxon.), a very traditional English gentleman in his mid-fifties who had a habit of requiring staff to attend morning tea each day. Whether this was to foster a social sense among colleagues or to audit staff attendance is uncertain, although some staff from the period suspected the latter. Prior to commencing at UWA in 1958, Bowen2 enjoyed a wide ranging career at many prestigious institutions, including: All Souls College Oxford, where he was a fellow from 1930 to 1937, the Oxford Institute of Statistics, where he was a researcher from 1935 to 1941, Harvard University, where he was a research fellow in 1954; and the University of Hull, where he was professor of economics from 1947 to 1958. At the time, Bowen’s reputation as a scholar largely rested on his monograph Britain’s Industrial Survival (Bowen 1947) and his handbook on Population (Bowen 1954).
Bowen was supported by a range of senior lecturers in economics that ended up having long careers at UWA: Merab Harris ( PhD Lond) on economic history, Wilfred Dowsett (MEc Syd) on mathematical economics, Des Oxnam, (MA N.Z.) on labour economics and industrial relations, Alexander Kerr (PhD W.Aust.) on regional accounting and economic history and Arnold Cook (PhD Harv). The other senior lecturers in economics were to shortly leave UWA: Neil Laing, who left UWA in 1965, and C. A. Cannegieter (Drs Ec NHHS) who left UWA in 1967, but at the time he was prominent for his work on the economic and social aspects of the Ord river scheme (Cannegeiter 1964, Musgrave and Lewis 1965). The economics program also enjoyed the services of a senior lecturer in ‘economic geography’, Joseph Gentilli (D. Pol Sc. Univ. Econ. Inst. Venice)and a senior lecturer in ‘public administration’, V. Subramamian (PhD ANU). Economics lecturers at that time who contributed to the discipline at UWA for extended periods include Ron Peters and Ray Petridis. Leslie A. Clarkson was the remaining lecturer in economics.
Unfortunately, the UWA library no longer stocks a copy of the undergraduate handbook for 1963, but it stores copies of almost all subsequent handbooks. Based on the 1964 handbook and the record of faculty discussion for changes introduced in that year, the 3 year ‘pass’ degree is comprised of 10 full year units, which must include (i) ‘economics’ at first year, second year and third year levels, ‘economic and social statistics’ at first year level and either ‘mathematics’ or ‘economic history’ at first year level; and (ii) the units from one of 5 ‘courses’ of specialisation, namely ‘mathematical economics and/or statistics’, ‘economic history’, ‘politics and public administration’, ‘industrial relations’ and ‘geography’. As is still the case today, ‘honours’ was undertaken in the 4 year of the degree.
The logic underlying these five economic streams, and the units taught within them, appears to have had as much to do with staff availability as with any rationale for curriculum development. Indeed, one reason why 1963 is notable is that it was the first year that monetary economics was introduced – a unit that has endured until this day. Curiously though, the memo written on 30 January 1962 from Arnold Cook to the Dean of the Faculty (Ian Bowen) requesting the introduction of this unit was partly justified on the basis of equitable treatment of staff:
“I would think it most unjust if some staff were given the opportunity to teach their own specialised fields (e.g. Industrial Relations, Economic History, History of Economic Thought, Public Administration, Mathematical Economics, Econometrics etc), and the same opportunity were denied to other members of staff (Arnold Cook, UWA Archive 459 part 2, folio 40).th 3
By way of digression, Aimee Tolomei (2005) prepared a very brief but beautiful biographical overview of Cook for the WA Guild of Blind Citizens. Cook was born in Narrogin in 1922 and lived in Geraldton and, at the age of 15, was diagnosed with “Retinitis Pigmentosa”, becoming totally blind by the age of 18. After completing his BA at UWA, he won a Hackett travelling scholarship to study at the London School of Economics, which he did between 1948 and 1950. His dissertation “the Implication for Wages Theory of the Pricing Policy of the Firm” was supervised by E. H. Phelps-Brown (UWA Archive: Personnel File, Arnold Cook). In the UK Cook acquired the assistance of a black Labrador guide dog called ‘Dreena’, who accompanied him back to Perth in 1950 to become the first guide dog in Australia. In 1965 Cook went on sabbatical to study at Harvard University with Arthur Smithies and James Duesenberry (UWA Archive: Personnel File, Arnold Cook), eventually obtaining his doctorate from Harvard in 1967. Cook died of a heart attach in 1981 at 59 years of age. His general contribution to society was publicly recognised by the WA Guild of Blind Citizens on 15 October 1985 when a statue of Arnold Cook, together with his guide dog Dreena, was unveiled at the entrance to the Ivy Watson Playground in King’s Park. To date, Cook remains the only Western Australian economist to be honoured with a public memorial statue.
In the fifteen years to 1977, the balance of the economics degree changed in three substantive ways: the decline of economic geography and public administration; the introduction of Japanese studies within the economics program; and a rise in the prominence of economic history. Leadership of the program also changed during this period.
Joseph Gentilli4 and V. Subramamian had moved out of the economics program in the late 1960s as the geography and public administration streams were taught outside the department of economics. This marked the beginning of the decline in these streams within the economics program and by the mid-1970s they were dropped from the economics degree.
The Japanese studies stream was introduced within the economics degree in the late 1960s. In part this was motivated by the growing ties between Australia and Japan as a result of the export of mineral and petroleum products from North West Australia to Japan. The Chair in Japanese studies was inaugurated in 1968 when the post was awarded to J. B. Conyngham, but his appointment was brief. In 1970 Bernard Key (MEc Calif.), a specialist in Japanese management systems, was appointed to the position and played the crucial role in establishing the program. From when he departed UWA in 1977 until 1984 the position remained vacant. Takashi Takayama (PhD Hokkaido Imp.), a Japanese economist who specialized in spatial and inter-temporal economics (1971, 1994), was appointed in 1984 and held the post until 1992, when the program moved out of the Faculty of Economics and Commerce (although Takayama remained in the Faculty as professor of economics until 1994). While the Japanese program was initially established with an economic emphasis, the core element of the Japanese studies program became language – with a full year language unit (or two semester units) taught in each year of the degree – with a Japanese courtyard being added at the suggestion of Professor Key as a physical instrument to assist students with the leaning of language and understanding Japanese culture.
While there was some coverage of Japanese culture in this stream, there was virtually no interaction between the Japanese studies major and the rest of the economics program. The one exception was Japanese history, which was also taught within the economic history major. Typically, Bachelor of Economics students undertaking a major in Japanese studies graduated with knowledge of two complementary but distinct fields: economics and Japanese language.
The greatest change, however, occurred in the area of economic history. In 1963, the Faculty agreed that students in the first year of the economics program may chose between Mathematics 10 and Economic History 10 (UWA archive 459 Part 2, folio 82), although, because Merab Harris was on extended leave, the requirement was not implemented until 1965 (UWA archive 459 Part 2, folio 98). In 1964, the Faculty Sub-Committee, comprising Ian Bowen, Christopher Savage (Head of Commerce), Merab Harris and Ray Petridis, recommended the establishment of a Chair in economic history (UWA archive 459 Part 2, folio 122), thereby enabling one economic history unit to be offered in first year and another as a fourth year honours class. In her penultimate year at UWA, Merab Harris and her junior colleague Leslie A. Clarkson 5 prepared a subsequent memo outlining the case for an expansion in the economic history program (UWA archive 459 Part 2, folio 125-126). They argued that the economic history professor should be appointed no later than 1967, so that a new third year economic history unit could also be introduced and a second year unit introduced shortly thereafter. Their proposals were justified on the basis of tradition and the need to feed the honours unit in economic history.
“The joint study of economic principles and economic history has a long and valuable tradition within the discipline of economics, and the faculty should not cut off the study of Economic History at the second year for students who wish to work within this tradition…
… at the moment we lose contact with students at the end of second year,6 and only one or two return to economic history in the fourth year (Merab Harris and Leslie Clarkson, UWA Archive 459 part 2, folio 125-126).
This became the blueprint for the development of economic history sequence within the economics program. In 1966 Wayne Frank (MS Utah State, PhD Ohio State) was appointed as a senior lecture and most importantly, Reginald Appleyard was appointed professor of economic history in 1967, when a third year economic history unit was also introduced. In 1969 a second year economic history unit was also introduced.
Prior to his appointment at UWA, Appleyard was a senior fellow in demography at the Australian National University and had acquired a solid reputation for his research into migration through studies like the Socioeconomic Determinants of Assisted Emigration from the United Kingdom to Australia (1976). While at UWA, he continued to work in this area, with studies like Immigration: Policy and Progress (1970), Ten Pound Immigrants (1988) and International Migration Today (1988) and as editor of International Migration. He also extended his research interests into core areas of economic history, such as The Beginning: European Discovery and Early Settlement of Swan River, Western Australia (1979). In addition, he worked on a longitudinal study on the settlement of Greek females in Australia between 1964 and 2008, resulting in a range of scholarly articles.7 During the period of Appleyard’s stewardship, the economic history stream continued to grow with the support of economists with an interest in economic development, namely: Robin Ghosh (PhD Birm.) and Rony Gabbay (DPolSc, Geneva), both of whom commenced at UWA in 1968, and Ian vanden Driesen (PhD, Lond), who commenced in 1970.
Prior to appointment at UWA, Ghosh trained as an historian of economic thought, under the supervision of Terence Hutchison, by investigating the relationship between classical economics and colonization. Among other things, two of his studies were published in Economica (1963, 1964) and a monograph was published under the title Classical Macroeconomics and the Case for Colonies (1967).8 After arriving at UWA, Ghosh undertook research in development economics, as in the book Agriculture in Economic Development (Ghosh1977), but he also continued his research interest in the history of economics9 Prior to employment with UWA, Rony Gabbay published on the history of Jews in Iraq (Gabbay 1954) and worked as a research associate and principal contributor to the Middle East Record (Aron 1960 and 1961). He successfully advocated in favour of introducing ‘Middle East Economies’ units within the economic history stream across a range of years in the economics degree. His early UWA research culminated in the publication of Communism and Agrarian Reform in Iraq (Gabbay 1978). Ian vanden Driesen arrived at UWA in 1970, but had taken his PhD at the LSE in the mid-1950s where he was a friend of fellow PhD student Helen Hughes (Lodewijks 2007, p.435). His interests were in labour movements, history and development, and it was in this broad area that he undertook research at UWA (vanden Driesen 1986, 1994). Development themes within the works of Ghosh, Gabbay and vanden Driesen grew over the period of their tenure at UWA, peaking in the second part of the period considered in this paper (as discussed in Section 3).
Appleyard was also supported by economic historians without any significant interest in development studies, most notably Pamela Statham (PhD UWA) and Mel Davies (MA Adel.). Pamela Statham started work at UWA in 1966 as a young academic, when she undertook postgraduate training and teaching duties. She subsequently undertook research on the Swan River Colony (Statham 1981), colonial statistics (Butlin, Ginswick, Statham 1986), sandalwood in WA (Statham 1988), the origins of Australia’s capital cities (1989) and, most importantly, she wrote the definitive biography of James Stirling (Statham-Drew 2003). Mel Davies joined UWA in 1976, teaching many economic history classes, authoring the well regarded ‘Corsets and Conception: Fashion and Demographic Trends in the Nineteenth Century’ (Davies 1982) and undertaking research into the origins of South Australia (Davies 1989).10
In this environment, the economic history stream prospered within the teaching program. By the end of the 1960s, the first year economic history unit at UWA dealt with Britain between 1760 and 1960, the second year economic history unit examined American and Russian economic history between 1860 and 1960 and the third year economic history unit was presented in two parts: Australian economic history between 1788 and 1960 and Japanese economic history between 1860 and 1960. The honours unit in history was a mixture of topics ranging from methodology (the ‘new’ economic history) to historical demography. At that stage, all these courses were offered over a one year period but with the advent of semesters, eight economic history units were offered at the end of the 1970s. The economic history stream also included Robin Ghosh’s unit on the history of economic analysis.
Another consequence of Appleyard’s arrival at UWA was the introduction of a second professor to the economics department which carried with it the potential to disturb the pattern of leadership within the program. In 1969, Bowen was ‘Head of Department’ and while he was on study leave that position was abolished. A new position entitled “Chairman of Department” was then created and awarded to Appleyard. It should be stressed that this was not the result of any ‘Machiavellian’ scheming by Appleyard. To the contrary, it was the result of lobbying by professors from outside the economics program and by staff from within the economic program, who had come to appreciate his consultative approach when dealing with staff. Consistent with that approach, Appleyard worked closely with Ghosh when chairing the activities of the department.11 Bowen, however, was clearly disappointed as he had understood that his appoint as professor of economics meant that he was also head of the department. In 1971 he commenced unpaid leave to work at the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (which, when considered in conjunction with its sister organisation, the International Development Association, is usually referred to as the World Bank) in Washington. On 22 March 1972, when writing to UWA’s Vice Chancellor to seek an extension to his leave, he wrote:
“Another factor which leads me to ask for extension of unpaid study leave is the organisation of the Economics Department since my return from study leave in 1969 has not provided me with satisfactory conditions of work” (Personnel file - Ian Bowen, UWA Archive S85/5, folio 176).
Bowen’s leave was extended until he retired in 1973. At the World Bank he served as the editor of the Bank’s journal Finance and Development from 1974 to 1977. However, it should be noted that, notwithstanding the personal disappointment he felt, Bowen acted with considerable dignity and continued to support the UWA economics program. On learning that Douglas Vickers, a professor of economics at the University of Pennsylvania, would replace him at UWA, Bowen advised the Vice Chancellor that he would be happy to:
“assist him in any way that I can, this year and next, and will discuss with him how I can help him develop economics in Western Australia.” (Personnel file - Ian Bowen, UWA Archive S85/5, folio 176).
Douglas Vickers was born and raised in Queensland and his appointment as professor of economics at UWA enabled him to return to Australia. He remained at UWA from 1972 to 1977. Leaving Japanese studies and industrial relations aside, Vickers found the economics program at UWA was of a varying standard. On the negative side, he points to a deficiency in “the important area of econometrics”. Econometrics was included in the program, but was not taught by specialists, and Vickers was of the view that a specialist professor in that area was needed. However, this deficiency was addressed in two ways: Darrell Turkington, a lecturer during Vickers’s tenure, undertook a PhD at Berkley and developed considerable expertise in mathematical economics and theoretical econometrics; and Professor Roger Bowden (PhD Manc.) was employed during 1976 – the same year that Vickers went abroad on study leave, returning in 1977 at which time he accepted the invitation of a professorial appointment at the University of Massachusetts.
Vickers has also pointed to a disappointing tendency to use standard text books for ‘churning material’ in classes. However, his most serious criticisms are directed at the program’s lack of direction, professionalism and research. On arrival at UWA:
“I found at the time the Economics Department was in fairly complete disarray and it became clear to me that it was not possible to raise it to international standards… No significant research was being done by faculty members and no graduate program of significance existed… one senior member [of staff] who did no research because he claimed that all that could be said in his area of interest had already been said, openly stated that this situation was, for him, his “Shangri La”. The department contained too many identifiable cliques whose primary aim was to protect their own parochial interest, and there did not exist … a Department of unified vision and professional commitment” (Douglas Vickers, correspondence with the author, 27 February 2009)
This assessment of research at UWA appears to be a little too harsh. For example, Ray Petridis started publishing in the History of Political Economy (HOPE) and the Economic Record during Vickers tenure, which laid the foundation for a number of well regarded studies after Vickers departure, most notably his HET studies on economists in government, Alfred Marshall and others (again published in HOPE) and the labour economics and wages policy (published in the Economic Record, Journal of Industrial Relations and UWA’s in house journal Economic Activity)12. Eventually a special issue of the History of Economics Review was published in Petridis’ honour (Leeson 2001), which included an introduction that briefly reviewed his contribution to economics (Flatau and Leeson 2001). In addition, Alexander Kerr was at UWA during the first half of Vickers’ tenure. While Kerr’s most celebrated works pre-date Vickers arrival in Western Australia, his paper ‘Structure of Final Demand in Perth’ (Kerr 1973) was published after Vickers’s arrival. Indeed, Vickers himself points out that it is to Kerr’s credit that he built his academic career at UWA to a point where he gained appointment at the newly established Murdoch University as the foundation professor of economics in 1975. Reginald Appleyard, the departmental chair during this period, was also President of the WA Branch of the Economic Society (1972-74), held the Japan Foundation’s 1973 Distinguished Visiting Fellowship and was active providing migration advice in international economic bodies.
Nevertheless, it is clear that Vickers was seriously concerned about the state of economics at UWA and he attempted to correct the deficiencies he saw. He did this by: undertaking productive research at UWA, primarily on the interplay between financial markets and process of capital formation, in works like “Finance and False Trading in Non-Tatonnement Markets” (1975) and Financial Markets in the Capitalist Process (1978); inviting distinguished economists from abroad to visit UWA, such as Terence Hutchison, the historian of economic thought who supervised Robin Ghosh, and Sydney Weintraub, a Keynesian economist; and engaging actively in ‘service’ activities, such as speaking to professional bodies and the press on economic matters and actively participating in the WA Branch of the Economic Society of Australia.. In addition, when Appleyard stood down as head of department in 1976, Vickers nominated for the position as this would place him in a better position to implement the reforms that he felt were necessary. However, his candidacy was not successful; he was defeated in the ballot by David Treloar, a more modest scholar in comparison to Vickers but one with more popular appeal among their colleagues. Treloar (1988 p. 270) subsequently portrayed Vickers as a man with an especially hierarchical view of the world in which the ‘professor stood above those of sub-professorial status’, inferring that this was the reason why Vickers lost the ballot, and indicating that it was no surprise that Vickers left UWA in the following year. However, this last point is probably overstated as I recall Vickers indicating, in response to a question raised at the 1997 HETSA Conference (University of Notre Dame, Fremantle), that he left WA because the post he was offered at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) was too good to turndown.13 Moreover, while the perception that Vickers looked down upon the activities of non-professorial colleagues was relatively widely held, it was probably a consequence of observers confusing his disdain for poor scholarship, which was his real concern, with disdain for non-professorial scholarship.
Of course, there is also a positive side to Vickers’s assessment. He reflected positively on the capacity of the program to produce a small number of well educated honours students and pointed to some good work in economic theory and analysis, macroeconomics and history of economic thought. He also had a great deal of time for the administrative acumen of Robin Ghosh who was then collaborating closely with Appleyard on the direction of the department, advising the University on his departure that Ghosh was worthy of advancement in rank. Perhaps most importantly though, with the passage of time, Vickers’s assessment of the economics program subsequent to his departure is much more favourable.
“I hasten to say that I am pleased to have seen that in more recent decades, after what I observed as an extended period of malaise, important progress towards national and international recognition appears to have been made.” (Douglas Vickers, correspondence with the author, 27 February 2009)
This latter assessment is generally consistent with the findings of the Section 3, which deals with the second fifteen years of the period under review.