Remembering Charlie

By Bhagwati, Jagdish | Atlantic Economic Journal, March 2005 | Go to article overview

Remembering Charlie


Bhagwati, Jagdish, Atlantic Economic Journal


In remembering Charlie, my mind goes back to 1956. I arrived in that year from Cambridge, England, to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to study at MIT. I must confess that I had been seduced into crossing the ocean by the theoretical reputation of Paul Samuelson and Bob Solow, both already legends worldwide.

Imagine then my surprise, indeed astonishment, at discovering Charlie. He proved to be an extra, indeed a huge, dividend, every bit as rewarding intellectually as his theorist colleagues. Of his brilliant and indulgent presence in the classroom, one could say: when Charlie came into the room, the sun came out. We were all charmed, captivated forever. Not one of his students, and he had many of the greatest distinction, would have anything but the fondest memories of Charlie.

His rapid-fire cataloging of points, seeking to collate and contrast different contributions to a topic, was like an AK-47 going off. There was nothing that he did not seem to have read. In fact, he made international economics come alive as he drew on his prodigious reading and recall of apt historical examples to illustrate and illuminate his arguments. We were thus witness to his love and aptitude for history, the subject to which he turned later with such enormous success.

But no account of Charlie's lectures would be complete if I did not mention his quicksilver wit, often delivered staccato style but with great effect. My favorite example of his wit, however, is from another classroom where Charlie was lecturing at Balliol in Tommy Balogh's seminar. Tommy, ever the difficult host, kept interrupting and challenging Charlie by saying, "that was not true in Algeria when I was advising Ben Bella;" "you cannot be right for India where I advised Prime Minister Nehru" and on and on. Charlie shut him off by saying, "no anecdotal economics." Tommy sulked and then, when Charlie told a story, he snapped, "no anecdotal economics." I thought he had Charlie by the jugular. But Charlie, without batting an eyelid, shot back, "I read the story in a book; that makes it scholarship!"

Charlie's public lectures and reviews were also marked by the same wit, often mischievous but always free of malice. I recall particularly a review of one of Harry Johnson's many collections of essays. Now, I must remind you that Harry wrote the way Renoir painted--without restraint.

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