Dave Clark (1946-2008): A Fine Historian of Economics and Early HETSA Member

By Groenewegen, Peter | History of Economics Review, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Dave Clark (1946-2008): A Fine Historian of Economics and Early HETSA Member


Groenewegen, Peter, History of Economics Review


The history of ideas tends to concentrate on the successful ideas. As a result, ideas which had large followings but which later are considered to be 'cranky', tend to be ignored. (Dave Clark, 'Monetary Cranks', in The New Palgrave. A Dictionary of Economics, London: Macmillan, 1987, volume 3, pp. 502-3)

Clearly, the Great Depression had long-run origins. Banking policy, problems of international finance brought on by the over-optimistic reparations demanded by the allies from Germany, and the break-down of the gold standard, were all influenced by these general developments and each in turn exacerbated the international trade imbalance. The 'gnomes of Zurich' and their local equivalents simply did not have the wire-pulling power that paranoid pamphleteers ascribed to them. However, a careful separation must be made between conspiracy explanations of the collapse and 'funny money' suggestions as to how the recovery could be assisted. Monetary policy was unnecessarily conservative in many Western countries, including Australia, and did little to assist recovery. But the banks did not cause the collapse. Ironically, most of the Australian Left had a monetarist, almost Friedmanite approach to explaining the depression of the 1930s. (Dave Clark, 'A Closed Book? The Debate on Causes', in The Wasted Years, edited by Judith Mackinolty, Sydney: George Allen and Unwin, 1981, p. 17)

David Leonard Clark died unexpectedly at the still quite young age of 61 on 27 May 2008. During his twenties he was very active as an historian of economics, attending conferences in Europe, the United States as well as the earlier meetings of HETSA in 1981 and 1983, and published papers on the subject as well as entries on historical subjects for The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics and other reference books. His interest in the subject never disappeared but for much of his career he concentrated on explaining economic policy issues to both the general public and to high school students by means of his newspaper columns and school briefs. However, his earlier participation in the history of economics community and his published contributions warrant a brief recognition at the rime of his death for readers of HER.

Dave was born on 3 August 1946, spending a lot of his early years on Sydney beaches and waterways, for which he paid later by way of a virulent strain of skin cancer. He matriculated from Sydney Tech High in 1963 with a well-earned reputation as a rebel and entered the University of Sydney's Faculty of Economics as a student in 1964. He completed a first-class honours Economic History degree in 1968, with a thesis on Sydney's water supply, published in 1978 under the title, 'Worse than Physic. Sydney's Water Supply 1788-1888' in a book of essays on nineteenth-century urban history, edited by M. Kelly for Sydney University Press.

I first encountered Dave Clark when he attended my lectures (on sixteenth-and seventeenth-century mercantilism, the Physiocrats and the Scottish school ending with Adam Smith) in the History of Economic Thought class, then a compulsory part of the honours degree in the Faculty of Economics at Sydney. Dave came first in that class, gaining the Arthur Oakes Memorial Prize, and writing the obligatory long essay, which at that stage was the best I had read in my five years' experience as teacher of the subject.

His interest in the history of economics, together with an equally strong interest in economic theory, led to continuation of his studies through research for a PhD on the literature of theories of economic growth and development from 1925 to 1950. This made him my first PhD student, and a lifelong friend. The time taken for the PhD was long, partly the result of a widening of its subject matter. The submitted work included evaluations of Wassily Leontiev's input-output analysis with special reference to its historical roots in Francois Quesnay's Tableau economique and Karl Marx's reproduction schema, the 1930s capital controversies and their roots in the 1880s and 1890s, institutionalist critics of the literature commencing with an overview of Thorstein Veblen's work and continuing with the Kiel school, as well as precursors of Harrod-Domar growth models likewise going back to Quesnay and Marx. …

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