Academic journal article History of Economics Review

Colin Clark and Australia

Academic journal article History of Economics Review

Colin Clark and Australia

Article excerpt

Abstract: Colin Clark was a rather quixotic figure. Much of his complex character is captured not only in his varied career choices but also the comments made of him by various referees over the years. While Clark spent half of his career in England and half in Australia it was to the latter that he was drawn. He was happy to be identified as an Australian economist. Despite his eminent academic record he was never to occupy a professorial chair in Australia. This was largely attributable to his own choices in career and his penchant for a doctrinaire brand of economics.

1 Introduction

In 1987 the Economic Society of Australia announced its inaugural Distinguished Fellows by making a joint award to two of Australia's greatest economists, Trevor Swan and Colin Clark. While it looked good on paper it was a move resonant of how the 1974 Nobel Prize in economics was awarded to two polar opposites, namely, Gunnar Myrdal and Friedrich Hayek. Clark and Swan, too, were at opposite ends of the spectrum and it is likely neither knew the other had also been elected otherwise they may well have refused. (1) One economic journalist suggested the Economic Society award to Clark was because he had not been given a chair (Clark 1987, AFR, 31 Aug.). (2) Clark was well known as a controversialist. (3) There was always concern amongst the Australian economics professoriate that Clark's research was slanted towards that of the teachings of the Catholic Church. There was also the view that Clark's empirical work was at times so cavalier that he could 'make bricks without straw' (Giblin 1940: 262). Sensing his days were drawing to a close, Clark gave a number of lengthy interviews around 1987 to the then Secretary of the Treasury, Chris Higgins (1988), Barbara Blackman (1986) of the National Library of Australia (NLA), Bruce McFarlane and Derek Healey (1989) from the University of Adelaide and, lastly, George Kenwood (1982) from the University of Queensland. After his death in 1989 the Faculty of Commerce at the University of Queensland named the commerce and economics building after Clark in recognition of the fact that he had spent the last productive years of his career there. The Faculty also established a series of memorial lectures in Clark's name which is now in its twentieth year.

Clark's career had indeed been a meritorious one. In various interviews he recounted the events of his life, the people he had met and the contributions of his long career. In his interview with Blackman, Clark recalled, for instance, that he had received some rather 'strange offers of appointments' including being a tutor to the Russian ambassador's children in London, another to be economic adviser to Oswald Mosley. The one thing, though, that Clark did not refer to in all these interviews was that for much of the period when he was at Oxford as the Director of the Institute for Research in Agricultural Economics he was desperately keen to return to Australia. The same omission is in Groenewegen and McFarlane's (1990) accurate summation of Clark's life and career as well as the more recent appraisal of Clark's contribution by Endres (2007). From the late 1950s onward, no Australian university, however, was prepared to hire him at an executive or professorial level. The matter caused Clark considerable frustration and genuine puzzlement. He came back to Australia upon his early retirement from Oxford in 1969 and only then as a research scholar at Monash as well as heading up a small think-tank financed by the Catholic Church. This article recounts that little-known episode and offers reasons why this eminent economist could not return to Australia until much later than he had wished. It also recounts what happened to Clark when he did eventually return to the land he adored.

2 The First Half of Clark's Career

While studying chemistry at Brasenose College, Oxford, Clark had taught himself statistics. He was attracted to social and economic matters partly because of the dire state of interwar Britain. …

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