Ronald Findlay, 1935-2021

Ronald Findlay, who died late last week, was one of the finest trade theorists of his generation. Born in Rangoon in 1935, his first papers appeared in the QJE and Oxford Economic Papers in 1959.  A short note, co-authored with the present writer, was published online by the Journal of Global History earlier this year. Ron’s publication record thus spanned eight successive decades: a remarkable achievement, but not so remarkable to anyone fortunate enough to know the man.

Ron’s graduate classmate, Ronald Jones, is reported to have once said that all economics is either trade or history.[1] While Ron’s career was built on his effortless mastery of trade theory, he had an unparalleled knowledge of and interest in history, based on a lifetime of judicious reading. Indeed, his own life contained more history than is true for most of us. As a seven-year-old Anglo-Burmese boy he saw the first Japanese bombs fall on a post office across the road from where he lived; his family was compelled to flee the country, participating in the great trek out of Burma. Ron remembered one day running ahead of the rest of the group and spotting a British soldier, whose presence meant that they had finally made it to the comparative safety of India. The fugitives having been re-housed, Ron’s new teachers decided to see if he could cope with a well-known textbook of the time. But having mistaken the page number Ron read the copyright notice, rather than anything to do with Dick, Jane, or Spot. “The refugee boy can read”, was the verdict.

His subsequent academic career was predictably brilliant, with a BA from Rangoon University being followed by a PhD at MIT, where Ron studied under Bob Solow. “Solow was the older brother everyone wished they had had”, he once said, “while Samuelson was Zeus”. It was a golden generation on Mount Olympus: I will never forget the evening I spent sitting on a floor in Stockholm listening to the two Ronnies, Findlay and Jones, alongside Bob Mundell, swapping stories about their graduate years.

Ron returned home and taught in Rangoon, where he had the honour of being marched around a lake by Joan Robinson who had flown to Burma expressly to tell him how mistaken he was about capital. But it was probably inevitable that he should end up returning to the United States, where he was the Ragnar Nurske Professor of Economics at Columbia University for many years. Columbia was, and remains, a power-house in international economics, and Ron was central in achieving that.

And Columbia was where I met him as a young and fairly clueless assistant professor in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Like many other young people, no doubt, Ron took me under his wing with great generosity of spirit and kindness. I had decided to make the switch from international economics to economic history, but Ron had as much to teach me about the past as he did about trade and growth theory, and our frequent lunches with Mike Gavin were one of the highlights of my time there. Ron was an unforgettable presence in the seminar room, extemporizing with a piece of chalk and a blackboard. As others have said he was a genius at reducing general equilibrium models to their graphical essences in the most intuitive manner possible.

I will always be grateful to Mike Bordo, Alan Taylor, and Jeff Williamson, who in 1999 had the very good idea of putting together a conference on the history of globalization, insisting that each chapter be written by a two-person team: one an economic historian, the other a “regular economist”. I seized the opportunity to work with Ron, and over the next eight years we wrote first the chapter, and subsequently a book expanding on the theme. It was an intense and hugely enjoyable collaboration, and the eventual publication of the volume, while gratifying, left a void in my day-to-day life.

Ron had the wisdom and knowledge that comes with age, but retained a boyish enthusiasm and impishness that made him a joy to be with: the schoolboy was never very far from the surface. I am so very fortunate to have known him. He was devoted to Jane and the rest of his family, and my thoughts are with them today.


[1] That is to say, either theory or empirics.

Report of the Commission on Pensions

The report of the Commission on Pensions and other supplementary material have been published by the Department of Social Protection. They are available here.

Irish Postgraduate and Early Career Economics (IPECE) Workshop 2021 – Call for Papers

This year’s Irish Postgraduate and Early Career Economics (IPECE) Workshop will be hosted by the Economic and Social Research Institute Dublin and the Department of Economics, Trinity College Dublin on the 26th November 2021. We now invite PhD students and early career economists to submit their extended abstracts or research papers for consideration for the IPECE Workshop 2021. The workshop will be held online and there is no registration fee for this event.

The event is aimed at PhD students, postdoctoral and early career researchers. The meeting will provide an excellent opportunity to engage with research results and work-in-progress in a welcoming and constructive environment. We encourage those working on economics research, based on the island of Ireland, to attend.

The workshop will also feature talks on the placement of PhD graduates in Ireland and internationally, in academia and in policy institutions.

Please submit your extended abstracts or full research papers as a pdf file by 5th October 2021, to ipece2021@gmail.com. Please include JEL codes and a short CV in your submission.

Important dates

Submission deadline: 5th October 2021

Decisions and invitations to the workshop: 22nd October 2021

Registration deadline: 5th November 2021

Final program: 15th November

Workshop: 26th November

We are grateful for the support of the Irish Economic Association.

Local organising committee: Dora Tuda, Míde Griffin, Andre Sanchez Pacheco, Seamus O’Malley

Terrence McDonagh, RIP

Terry McDonagh passed away this week. A professor at NUI, Galway for many years, he was an inspiring teacher and a key researcher in more heterodox approaches to economics. I studied under him and recall his clear lecturing style, his wit, and his dedication to the ideas he thought most important. Readers may wish to submit their own tributes to Terry in the comments below.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h’anam dílis.

ESHSI Annual Conference: Call For Papers

ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL HISTORY SOCIETY OF IRELAND 2021: CALL FOR PAPERS

The annual conference of the Economic and Social History Society of Ireland will be held online, hosted by the National University of Ireland, Galway on the 3rd and 4th of December 2021.  

The K. H. Connell memorial lecture will be given by David Dickson, on ‘Ireland and the Caribbean in the eighteenth century’.  

Papers of 20 minutes duration on all aspects of the economic and social history of Ireland are welcome.  

Please send proposals for papers to Niall Ó Ciosáin (niall.ociosain@nuigalway.ie) by September 20th, 2021.  

Proposals should include an abstract of 100-250 words and full contact details.