Reminiscences of Our "Sacred Decade of Twenties"

By Tsuru, Shigeto | American Economist, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Reminiscences of Our "Sacred Decade of Twenties"

Tsuru, Shigeto, American Economist

1. Paul Samuelson is the still active, oldest and most intimate friend of mine in the United States for the past seventy years. Paul came to the Harvard graduate school in economics in 1935 from Chicago and I joined the same class after graduating from Harvard College in the same year, he at the age of twenty and myself of twenty-three.

Schumpeter, who succeeded Taussig in taking over "Ec. Eleven," the theory course for first-year graduate students, used to speak of the "sacred decade of twenties," reminding us that one should not miss that fruitful opportunity if one aspires to rank in the category of economic theorists. He himself was an outstanding model in this respect, having published two classical works (Das Wesen und der Hauptinhalt des theoretischen Nation-alokonomie and Theorie der wirtschaftlichen Entwicklung) in his twenties. How successful were we in fulfilling the expectation implied in the Schumpeter's dictum? I believe that every one agrees that Paul certainly was a success in this regard. My case cannot be compared with his, although in my own way I attained some modest aspirations in the decade of the twenties before I returned to Japan in 1942 during the war, and in particular I was fortunate in having had an intimate comradeship with Paul both professionally and privately. Therefore, I am going to limit my account in this essay to our "sacred decade of twenties."

2. Very few of my classmates at Harvard questioned the reason of why and how I happened to come to Harvard. Most of them apparently took far granted that it was a deliberate planned action on my part. But the fact of matter was: there was an element of "societal necessity" so to speak, beyond my personal control in my coming to the United States in 1931 at the age of nineteen. This has to be explained. (1)

What do I mean by "an element of societal necessity?" For one thing, the year 1929, when I entered the higher school in the pre-war Japan (somewhat similar to the European Gymnasium), happened to discompose our complacence with two striking events of world-wide consequences, which augured ill for the peaceful, prosperous development of Japanese society: to wit--

(1) The Wall Street panic of 1929, spreading into a world-wide capitalist crisis in advanced countries, including Japan; and

(2) Intrusion of Japan's army into China, which became blatant enough in June 1928, assassinating Chang Tso-lin (Zhang Zoulin) by blowing up Chang's train as it was returning to Mukden (now Shen-yang). Symptomatic was the "Tanaka-giichi Memorial to the Throne, which came out open on the occasion of the IPR conference in Kyoto in 1929, which read: "In order to conquer China we must first conquer Manchuria and Mongolia. In order to conquer the world we must conquer China."

These events, along with their ramifying implications, constituted overriding societal environmental factors, which inevitably caused the creation of "Anti-Imperialism league" among student bodies in high schools and universities throughout the country. The Eighth Higher School in Nagoya, where I was a freshman in 1929, was no exception in this regard; and I happened to become one of the leaders at that time. The Peace-preservation Law had been revised in 1928 to make its indictment clauses severer, and I was arrested in December 1930 for violation of that Law. After the detention of three months, however, the court decided to suspend the prosecution in my case on account of my minor status in age. Instead, the school authority applied the then existing rule of expelling a student when he absented himself from the school for more than thirty days without formally sending a written notice of absence. Thus my name was deleted from the list itself of the entrants and my official scholastic record was to be no higher than the finishing of the fourth year in the middle school.

3. Downgrading of my school career made it practically impossible for me to apply immediately for entrance into higher educational institutions in Japan and my father suggested that I go abroad for study; and he would finance the travel cost and living expenses, including tuition fees, for two years or so if I agree to go to the United States. …

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