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. He was one of the most affirming people that I have ever met, and was not only admired and respected, but loved, by his many friends and colleagues. 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.

In Celebration of Peter Neary

The School of Economics at University College Dublin will celebrate the career and contributions of Peter Neary, the outstanding Irish economist of our time, with a special event on 29 April 2021.

For over forty-five years, Peter has been a leader in advancing the theoretical understanding of international trade. His far-ranging work has included research on imperfect competition in international markets, trade policy, multiproduct firms, and the specific concerns of resource- rich economies. While his best-known work is in trade, Peter’s contributions extend well beyond that field and cover issues such as modelling consumer behaviour and comparing international living standards. Finally, despite his reputation as a theorist, his applied work has been extraordinarily influential, particularly in the Irish context.

In addition to impact of his research, Peter helped to revolutionize Economics in Ireland, particularly at UCD where he worked for over 25 years before moving to Oxford University in 2006. It is no small statement to say that his time in Dublin transformed the way Economics is done in Ireland, both in the classroom and in the broader approach to grappling with pressing issues.

This event will highlight just a few of these accomplishments and will include contributions from Jim Anderson (Boston University), Ian Crawford (Oxford), Carsten Eckel (Munich), Ian Irvine (Concordia), Dermot Leahy (Maynooth), Monika Mrázová (Geneva), Rodney Thom (UCD), and Tony Venables (Oxford).

The online event will run from 1500-1700 UMT (Dublin time) on 29 April 2021.

Register for this online event at https://ucd-

Congratulations to Philip Lane

Many congratulations to Philip who has been formally appointed as the ECB’s new chief economist. The next few years are likely to be challenging ones for the Eurozone, and so it’s good to see an economist trained on the briny shores of the Atlantic being appointed to the position.

Brexit at Books Upstairs

Books Upstairs is very kindly hosting myself and Paul Gillespie at 6.30 pm on Thursday 28th February. We will be discussing my book, and no doubt the latest state of play as well. Space is limited, so those interested should email to reserve a place.

A Short History of Brexit (Part 2: notes from Chapter 8 on)


  1. Young (1999), p. 483.
  2. The speech is available at
  3. Young (1999), p. 479.
  4. Grob-Fitzgibbon (2016), pp. 438–9.
  5. The speech itself, as well as a superbly useful range of accompanying documents, is available at
  6. Young (1999), p. 423.
  7. Grob-Fitzgibbon (2016), p. 451.
  8. Grob-Fitzgibbon (2016), p. 453;
  9. A reference presumably to the European Commission’s Commissioners.
  10. Cited in Seldon and Collings (2000).
  11. Young (1999), p. 362.
  15. Young (1999), p. 433.
  16. I have put the word ‘victory’ in inverted commas to highlight the way in which much of the British political class and media have traditionally portrayed EU negotiations in terms of victory and defeat, rather than compromise and mutual benefit.
  17. The origins of these numbers, which seem arbitrary, are murky. On one account the 3 per cent figure is, like VAT, a gift from France to the world: see a-l-origine-du-deficit-a-3-du-pib-une-invention-100-francaise.html.
  18. Which is why I and 38 other Irish citizens were able to stand for election in the French municipal elections of 2014. And it should be noted that there were also 389 British candidates; see
  19. See Eichengreen and Wyplosz (1993) for a detailed account of the EMS crisis of 1992–3. Like all the Brookings Papers it is freely available online at
  20. Young (1999), p. 369.
  21. Both statements are equally true of the Clinton years.
  22. 23. Shipman (2017), p. 6.
  23. Kenny and Pearce (2018). 25. Ibid., pp. 131, 145.
  24. Shipman (2017), p. 7.
  25. Ibid., p. 8.
  26. Delors’s statement is available at; the quotations in the text are taken from pp. 17–18.
  27.   Gstöhl (1994).
  28. Shipman (2017), p. 15.
  29. Available at
  30. Shipman (2017), pp. 588–9.
  31. See O’Toole (2018).
  32. See for example
  33. Although I was a member of the Centre for European Reform’s Commission on the UK and the Single Market, I declined to sign a resultant letter to the newspapers on what the UK ought to do, as well as similar subsequent efforts, for two reasons. First, I’m not British, and I know from the Irish experience how irritating it is to have foreigners telling you what to do at times like this. And second, it wasn’t at all clear to me that economists’ letters were particularly helpful. On that score at least, I think I was (unfortunately) right.
  34. The statement led to a sharp rise in the British pound and a bigger subsequent collapse, all of which helped certain lucky investors to make a lot of money (Shipman 2017, pp. 432–4).