David Miles Bensusan-Butt, economist; born Colchester 24 July 1914; member, of the Economic Section of the Cabinet Office and Treasury 1938-62; Research Fellow, Nuffield College, Oxford 1953-54, 1958-59; Professorial Fellow, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University 1962-76; died London 25 March 1994.
DAVID BENSUSAN-BUTT was one of a brilliant generation of economists who emerged from John Maynard Keynes's tutelage at Cambridge University in the Thirties.
The son of the first female GP in Essex, David Butt was educated at Gresham's School, Holt, where he was a contemporary of the composer Benjamin Britten. He disliked the triviality and uniformity of school life, and read widely in philosophy, politics and art. At the age of 15 he came across Keynes's The Economic Consequences of the Peace. As Butt wrote in 1967:
It is hard now to convey to anyone under 40 any sense of how blackly depressing the world was in the early 1930s. It was not merely that there were millions of unemployed whose festering boredom and misery were all around . . . it was not only that for 10 to 15 years Governments had been continuously impotent and silly . . . It was worse than that . . . The foundations of ordered society in Europe, the ordinary decencies of peaceful civilisation seemed to be breaking up . . . the only hope was of some new treatment for the multiplying diseases of a dying capitalism in the shortening list of countries still civilised. And that meant economics, and, since there was nothing serious going on elsewhere in England at the time, economics in Cambridge.
He duly went up to King's College, Cambridge, and became Keynes's tutorial student. Keynes honoured him by asking him to compile the index for The General Theory, perhaps the most important economic text of the 20th century. Butt was then recruited at the age of 24 as private secretary to Professor F. A. Lindemann (later Viscount Cherwell), personal assistant to Churchill in the War Cabinet. Working day and night in Whitehall during those bleak years, Lindemann's department achieved a legendary status, and only now, with the publication of official records, is the vital contribution of the group being recognised. From these years came the "Butt Report"; in which by careful analyses of written and visual evidence, Butt demonstrated just how inaccurate was aerial bombing (a message that has had echoes in every conflict since). Churchill recognised the importance of the report - "this is a very serious paper and seems to require urgent attention!" - and subsequent historians have considered it amongst the greatest intellectual contribution to strategy in wartime Bomber Command.
Butt interrupted his time in Lindemann's department by war service in the Navy. He was missed in Whitehall to judge by a classic signal relayed over the public intercom at a Naval dockyard "Ordinary Seaman Butt to return to his seat in the War Cabinet immediately." He enjoyed the Navy, relishing the absurdity of military life as much as the travel. His favourite story was when serving on a lowly, scruffy minelayer, HMS Cyclone, …