Academic journal article History of Economics Review

D.H. Robertson's Study of Industrial Fluctuation: A Centenary Evaluation

Academic journal article History of Economics Review

D.H. Robertson's Study of Industrial Fluctuation: A Centenary Evaluation

Article excerpt

Abstract: 1915 is the centenary year of D.H. Robertson's A Study of Industrial Fluctuation. This paper provides a centenary evaluation of this book, dealing respectively with biographical background especially related to economic studies in section 2; a summary of the book's argument in section 3; and consideration of its major sources and its reception by way of book reviews in section 4. The book is one of the early modem British studies of economic fluctuations, which largely avoids monetary explanations of the subject.

1 Introduction

In very late 1915 (the author's preface is dated November 1915), P.S. King, the London publisher, put into circulation Robertson's first book, A Study of Industrial Fluctuation: an Enquiry into the Character and Causes of the So-called Cyclical Movements of Trade. The author was a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge and the book was in fact the fellowship dissertation Robertson had successfully submitted to his College on the second time in 1914. An earlier version of the work had been awarded the Cobden Club Prize at Cambridge in 1913, an indication that the book was largely written before the onset of the First World War. Robertson also indicated that various sections of the work had been published earlier in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society (March 1914). In 1948, a new edition appeared as No. 8 of the London School of Economics Third Series of Reprints of Scarce Works on Political Economy, with a new preface by the author and an appendix reprinting M. Labordiere's 1907 study of the United States' crisis of that year.

This paper evaluates the contents of Robertson's contribution in his first economics book on the occasion of its centenary of publication. It does so in the following manner. After a section (section 2) devoted to Robertson's personal background with special reference to his early studies in economics, the next section (section 3) outlines and critically comments on the contents of the book. The major sources used by Robertson are mentioned in section 4, before by way of conclusion the book's reception and its success as a study of the business cycle are discussed.

2 Biographical Background

Dennis Holme Robertson was born on 23 May 1890, almost, but not quite, coincident with the publication of the first edition of Alfred Marshall's Principles of Economics some two months later in the second half of July 1890. He was born at Lowestoft, Suffolk, the youngest son in a family of six children of Dr James Robertson (schoolmaster, clergyman and a Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge), and his wife, Constance Elizabeth Wilson. The Robertsons were originally of Scottish stock but by the time of Dennis's birth had been living in England for many generations. The youngest member of a large, shabby, but genteel clergyman's family, Robertson's childhood circumstances were initially rather straitened. As Skidelsky (1992: 272) pointed out (citing Hicks's obituary of Robertson), Robertson's father had just resigned his headmastership at Haylesbury 'under somewhat of a cloud'. Young Dennis grew up at the Whittlesforth Parsonage in Cambridgeshire. His father taught him classics sufficiently well for Robertson to win a scholarship at Eton at the age of twelve. There he flourished. He won many prizes including the Newcastle Prize for Classics; he wrote verse; he edited the Eton College Chronicle; and in his final year became Captain of the school. Memorably, he played the part of the White Queen in an Eton production of Lewis Carroll's 'Alice and the Looking Glass'. He thereby inaugurated a distinctive feature of his published works by their specific association with the Alice books, visible first in his second book, Money, and subsequently in all of his later books, with 'apt' quotes from the Alice books at the start of each of their chapters (for example, Robertson 1922: 1). In 1908, Dennis Robertson won a scholarship in Classics at Trinity College, Cambridge, a starting point for his subsequent highly successful academic career, spent virtually exclusively at Cambridge. …

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