Tom Kettle, 1880 – 1916

In 1909 Tom Kettle was appointed the first Professor of the National Economics of Ireland at University College, Dublin.
He was in Belgium running arms for the National Volunteers when the war broke out in 1914. What he perceived as the barbaric Prussian assault on European civilization prompted him to apply for a commission with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, which he was awarded in 1916.
He was killed in action at Ginchy (Picardy) during the Battle of the Somme on 9th September 1916.
In the spring of 2006 the late Gerry Barry, the RTÉ broadcaster, organized a public meeting (in the former House of Lords chamber at College Green) to mark the 90th anniversary of Kettle’s death. He asked me to contribute a piece on Kettle’s work as an economist.
Ten years on, and a century after Kettle’s death, I thought readers might be interested in the brief essay I wrote for the occasion.

More details of his life are available in the excellent Wikipedia article on him:

8 replies on “Tom Kettle, 1880 – 1916”

Wonder what he would have thought of now with a handful of industrial pioneers claiming untold wealth oreal style, huge Inequality and a gold standard style fixed exchange mechanism driving deflation.

Thanks for the memory. I used to walk past Tom Kettle each day (inc. Sat!) as I walked to and from school. I would take the winding ‘diagonal’ through St Stephen’s Green, past the fountains and flower beds, from Harcourt Street to Merrion Row. I’d forgotten this.

Our modern economies are physical processes, occurring in a physical setting and consuming physical resources* – some more finite than others. In terms of the Natural Law, our economies are a dissipative process, that is they consume energy and trend, slowly and inexorably toward disruption and decay. It is a singular failing of theoretical Economics that this immutable physico-chemical characteristic is not emphasised. In fact I suspect that most economists may not be even aware of it and it has no meaningful cognitive conception in their economic mind-sets, that is, that such a dissipative process shall encounter increasingly difficult physical (marginal) boundaries and cease working.

Its certainly possible to finesse the process – for a while. Particularly in respect of inputting increasing amounts of energy and other resources – for little additional effect. Or to adopt a delusional stance and pretend that a faltering rate of economic growth will somehow or other ‘kick-start’ itself and resume its upward trend. Not so.

The odds-on probability is that humans will behave in an Assad-like manner: trash their homelands – a Solitude being preferred to a messy Co-operative.

* Money (apart from notes and coin) is not a finite physical resource. Debt however is a physical, significant and negative economic externality. When our economies go down, debt will follow.


Perhaps we could do a swap? You and all the others who call into Joe Duffy can go back to 1916 and enjoy all the luxuries and benefits of that golden age. Anyone sane from that era can come and live in the modern world.


Neolib Economics is a busted flush. QE is deflation TINA has delivered global deflation. Not one OECD central bank can deliver its own inflation target. Apparently shunting all that money to the top 1% strangles demand. Nothing modern about that.

If he had been around in modern times he could of course have chinwagged with Myrton Scholes and accused his collaborator of pot.

text from Blind Biddy in Davos:

You’d need a Joycean Hegel to figure out volunteer/fusilier Tom Kettle.

As for economics, the main economic benefit of the professorship was that it provided the few bob to allow him to marry Mary Sheehy ….

p.s. The JB Lyons biography (1983, Glendale) is a good read … on time and context as well as the man.


WEF this year is more like WTF. Deflating asset bubbles cos the 99% ain’T getting no pay rises meaning demand is stuffed. As Fisher said the status quo are not the innovators. As Einstein said we need thinking different to that which brought us here to move on from here. The WEF people ARE the problem.

Well, since he married a Sheehy his taste can’t be doubted even if his economic capacities can.

However, the repeated element within the paper speaks again to the importance and fact that economics is really political economy in almost all cases. It’s not a self-standing science in almost any way. The decision is a market is to exist at all is political. How it should run is also a political choice. Some features of a market or of an economy may be suitable for sciency analysis, but an economy is predominantly a political artefact rather than a scientific artefact.

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