0:05:07 I arrived in Cambridge in September 1962 to read mathematics; at that time I was hoping to be a theoretical, high-energy physicist, and in Cambridge theoretical physicists are drawn from mathematics; I enjoyed applied mathematics but pure math never interested me, nor was I any good at it; I was also becoming interested in social issues; this was the time of the Vietnam War, and a number of my acquaintances were social scientists; I was at Trinity; Peter Swinnerton-Dyer was one of my supervisors and was also Dean of College; he was a deep and original mathematician; I got to know him well even as an undergraduate and now see him pretty regularly; I admired his style of enquiry; he was interested in a number of subjects and was able to relate seemingly unrelated ones; years later I discovered that ability in an unmatchable degree in Kenneth Arrow; when in 1977 I read Arrowís ďLimits of OrganizationĒ, it permanently changed the way I conceived economics and the way I framed social problems; Trinity was a huge change from Delhi; I had read a lot of Bertrand Russellís writings in Delhi; he was a major influence; next to my father, Russell was the biggest influence on the way I read the world; for example I imbibed a sceptical attitude toward what people in power say or do; I like to think I am a softer person than Russell, my scepticism is allied to a belief, naive perhaps, that if people were to sit together to thrash things out, they would come away in broad agreement; I am also a thoroughbred democrat, whereas Russell was loftier, his democratic instincts were kept at bay by his aristocratic leanings; but I never met him so I can't be sure; he wrote a number of autobiographical essays, so I knew something about Cambridge long before I came here; when I arrived I thought everybody in the street was likely to be a genius, and for a whole week I didnít enter Hall, I was so frightened; eventually I was forced to, as Hall was compulsory in those days and I was paying for it; I met Francis Cripps the first time I went into Hall; he came and sat next to me; we subsequently became the closest of friends; he was devastatingly brilliant, so my suspicion wasnít disproved, that Cambridge is full of geniuses; I didnít get much out of undergraduate life here, nor in Delhi previously; I had a seven-year spell after leaving Rajghat when I didn't really grow much; I must have been acquiring knowledge and expertise, but I was unaware of it; I was not politically engaged, although I took part in a few marches in London against the Bomb and the Vietnam War; I have several friends from my undergraduate period with whom I have remained close; Francis left England some years ago for Thailand, so I havenít seem much of him in recent years; the philosopher Simon Blackburn and I were and are close friends; I like to think I had some influence over his return to Cambridge from the US; he and I and Christopher Garrett, a very distinguished oceanographer and mathematician, were exact contemporaries; Garrett left his Prize Fellowship at Trinity a year after completing his PhD and made his career in the US and Canada, but we keep in touch; I used to go to the Arts Theatre frequently but never joined a drama society.
7:23:19 On completing Part 3 of the math tripos I transferred to economics; I was intending to work toward a Diploma in Economics, which is sort of a conversion course for people transferring to economics from maths or some other subject; James Mirrlees was an economics Fellow at Trinity; I had got to know him, as we both were members of the Apostles, a discussion society; he encouraged me to move to economics because he could tell I was interested in social issues; I became a student in economics in 1965; I could have completed the Diploma, but once I had sat for the exam at the end of the academic year, in 1966, Mirrlees suggested I work instead for a PhD; he had been a mathematician before becoming an economist, so was the ideal supervisor in more than one sense; even then one could tell he was a towering thinker; Mirrlees ensured that Trinity funded my research, a gesture for which I remain more than just grateful; in the event I completed my PhD dissertation in eighteen months, which is probably a record; I submitted my dissertation in April 1968 having begun working toward it in October 1966; itís the sort of unimportant achievement we academics tend to remember and remain proud of; I worked on the problem of optimum intergenerational saving, which is a practical application of the concept of intergenerational justice; the great Cambridge economist/mathematician/philosopher, Frank Ramsey, a Fellow of your College, had framed the problem in a 1928 paper; the problem had to do with how much of a nationís GDP ought to be saved for future generations; you can tell the answer depends on the economic model you postulate, for example, on whether investment is likely to be productive, whether human ingenuity can be expected to overcome environmental constraints, and so on; Ramsey was a thorough going utilitarian, as was Mirrlees; because putting Ramseyís formulation to work on various economic models was the thing to do in those days, I did the same; I worked on the Ramsey problem using an economic model that had become popular among left-wing economists, it had been constructed in the Soviet Union in the 1920s; but although publishable and was published, the paper wasnít novel, as unknown to me several other economists were also applying Rameyís formulation to that same Soviet model; however, for my final dissertation chapter I did something no one in the crowded field of the theory of optimum economic development had thought of doing; it was to study optimum savings and population policies jointly; in Ramseyís world and the world being studied by economic theorists at the time, future population numbers were not subject to human control, they were forecasts; I followed Henry Sidgwick and my future father-in-law James Meade in posing the problem of optimum saving and population in a utilitarian manner; although Sidgwick and Meade had addressed the problem, they hadnít offered an analysis; the chapter and the paper I published on its basis provided a complete account; it remains one of my best papers; however, a few years after completing my PhD I began to question the Sidgwick-Meade formulation; I became convinced the formulation was wrong; the classical utilitarians, and Meade was the last great classical utilitarian, gave equal weight to potential and future utilities, they didnít distinguish people who would be born if only we chose to create them and people who would be born no matter what happens to be government or household policy; that lack of distinction was the reason behind my finding that classical utilitarianism recommends very large populations; I began to doubt that potential people should be awarded the same weight as future people; over the years I have worked off and on trying to justify a moral theory that gives greater weight to the welfares of actual and future people than to potential welfares; such a theory recommends fewer people than classical utilitarianism; in a world of limited resources that matters a lot; along the way I worked on the more restricted problem of justice among the generations; but the problem of optimum population has dogged me ever since my graduate student days; because I have no training in philosophy, itís taken me many tries to present the formulation in a satisfactory way; my most recent paper on the subject, which I like to think has nailed the bird Iíve been trying to catch, was published recently in the latest volume in a series begun by the late Peter Laslett, on political philosophy; the book was edited by James Fishkin and Robert Goodin and is on population and political theory; from that early work I also became interested in demography; so Iíve tried to understand the motivations underlying fertility behaviour; I was never persuaded that the slogan ďpoverty lies at the heart of high fertility in poor countryĒ is anything more than patter; so Iíve tried to identify structural failures in poor countries today that have resulted in high population growth there; the puzzle was to explain why in poor countries fertility rates didnít drop following declines in mortality rates as quickly as one might have expected; Iíve also brought data to bear on the matter; the structural failures Iím talking about are what economists would call ďadverse reproductive externalitiesĒ, which is a fancy way of saying that pro-natalist behaviour that may be reasonable at the individual household level is collectively bad news for the community; you should know though that my work on the poverty-population-environment nexus hasnít made me popular among mainstream development economists nor development activists; when I published my first paper classifying the various structural failures sustaining high fertility rates, a number of friends took me to task for taking a ďright-wingĒ stance toward the problems of economic development; some even accused me of being a Malthusian; thatís about as lowly as you can be in the economics world; in recent decades population has been a taboo among development economists and activists unless itís discussed as an adjunct to gender inequities; most anti-Malthusian writings such as those that appear routinely in the Economist newspaper, are worthless; they make a caricature of what he was about, and do a very selected amount of data-mining; I am not a universal Malthusian, his arithmetic and geometric rules havenít been at play in Europe since the Industrial Revolution; but I AM a Malthusian in the sense of being hugely concerned over the growth in population numbers and material consumption in a world with limited resources; unprecedented growth in those two variables are playing havoc with the Earth System; both rich and poor countries are contributing to it in their different ways; those who believe this isnít happening are rejecting a great deal of ecology, environmental sciences, climate science, the lot; the work Iíve done at the population-poverty-environment nexus has identified the harmful unintended consequences that our decisions on consumption, investment, and reproduction have on others in the presence of structural weaknesses; those consequences find their way into the future; some arise because of a lack of well-defined markets, for example, capital and insurance markets; when you anthropologists observe that in poor countries parents desire children not only as ends but also as means to substitute for old-age pension and labour-saving devices, you in effect point to adverse reproductive externalities; thatís to say itís rational from the individual householdís point of view to have large numbers of children, but itís collectively bad news; the current determination among growth and development economists to show that Malthus was wrong strikes me as being a misleading exercise; people are certainly living longer today than they were 200 years ago, many, many more people are better off now in terms of their standard of living, but if you ask whether development has been sustainable or is likely to be sustainable under business as usual in a particular country, then youíve to worry about the state of the natural resource base, and the environment more generally; figures for gross incomes, GDP for example, or life expectancy, donít even begin to allow you to look at that question; one of my research projects over the past couple of decades, joint with colleagues such as Kenneth Arrow and Karl-Goran Maler, has been to determine from such data as we have how much trashing we have been doing to Earth while growing in numbers and enjoying higher living standards and longer lives; we ask whether there are serious losses waiting in the future that we arenít taking into account when we study growth rates in GDP; all that lead to notions of justice among generations; today, economists trash Malthus so as to go into denial over environmental degradation; the Economist recently poked fun at him under the caption ďfalse prophetĒ; the newspaper does now acknowledge climate change as a devastation in waiting; but climate change is only one in a long list of environmental problems, our treatment of the oceans and tropical forests is another; weíve also been destroying coral reefs, fresh water sources, mangroves, and top soil; my friends among ecologists, Paul Ehrlich especially, are criticised for having repeatedly forecast doom even though the putative forecast hasnít materialised; but thatís to interpret ecologists as saying there will be one big global catastrophe; ecologists I know never say that; like we economists and you anthropologists, ecologists for the most part gather their insights from a study of small problems, geographically confined problems; in my own work on the poverty-population-environment nexus Iíve shown that in poor countries catastrophes in consequence of environmental degradation occur routinely at the household, village, even district level; when you see out-migration from a village, for example, you can be sure theyíve suffered a catastrophe there; receding forests and vanishing water holes are sometimes the tipping point; often the proximate cause is social tension, ethnic cleansing and the like, but they are frequently triggered by environmental stress; itís tempting to trace all that to a single cause and call it ďbad governanceĒ, but thatís just a way of rephrasing the problem; the particular rephrasing doesnít illuminate; intellectuals are drawn to mono-causal explanations, but thatís almost always bad social science; social phenomena are subject to multiple causes, and the causes influence one another over time; being an optimistic tribe, we economists see beneficial reinforcements among those multiple factors, leading to a never ending virtuous cycle of economic growth; my own work tells me thatís not the only pathway; the flip side consists of mutually destructive reinforcements in Human-Nature interactions, bad positive feedbacks, even ďvicious cyclesĒ; over the years Iíve tried to construct a rigorous account of how small differences among people can become big cumulatively; those who were slightly unfortunate to begin with get trapped in poverty even while those who were slightly fortunate to begin with enjoy a better and better life; the thought here is that small initial difference among people can make for huge subsequent differences among them; personal, even regional histories bifurcate communities into the haves and have-nots; itís often said that history is a great leveller, but my own work on socio-ecological pathways tells me history can also be a great divider; I was originally drawn to a study of possible pathways that give rise to poverty traps in joint work with the economist Debraj Ray, who had already been thinking along similar lines when we met in Stanford in 1983; we began to study nutrition science together and realised that nutritional insults in childhood, even when in the womb, can have irreversibly adverse consequences on a personís ability to work in adulthood; some time later it struck me that other factors contributing to the positive feedbacks are degraded natural capital and high fertility rates; I keep returning to high fertility rates in contemporary poor countries because mainstream development economists, even economic demographers, have chosen not to make much of them; good social science should be open-minded enough to ask whether itís possible that individuals choose in reasonably rational ways and yet things go awry collectively, thereby individually; population growth rates in Sub-Saharan Africa have been very high, but you can't necessarily fault individual Africans, they may well have been choosing rationally; collectively though itís been a disaster; sometimes itís said that poverty is the real problem, not population; but persistent poverty and high population growth in the contemporary world are related; itís not an accident that the average African has far larger families than the average European, both have a rationale; however one pathway sustains impoverishment, whereas the other leads to higher and higher gross incomes; whether the former is Malthusian is totally uninteresting, the question should be whether the theory is speaking to data; studying the poverty-population-environment nexus has been fraught for me; colleagues in the US have sometimes responded to my writings by asking how I could be against cutting down tropical forests the size of Belgium each year to make way for agriculture when there are so many hungry mouths, or against building dams to provide irrigation water for rising numbers of people; itís meant to be a conversation stopper, but the choice being posed is false; there are far cheaper ways of alleviating hunger and increasing employment than cutting down rainforests the size of Belgium each year; but so long as natural capital in the wild is priced at zero, you wouldnít know there are cheaper ways; when Iím asked the conversation stopper, I realise my writings on the subject have been just a waste of time; in any event, if development policy in poor countries had taken population growth and resource depletion seriously in a world where local ecosystems are tightly bound geographically and connected to the wider world in an overlapping manner, we wouldnít have been forced to make the sort of choices people seem to accept as necessary for poverty alleviation today; like you anthropologists, we economists like to work on small problems, I mean problems facing people in a village, for example; they are a lens through which one can glimpse the bigger picture; you can do that if you are lucky; I usually avoid the big picture because Iím scared I would draw too many conclusions, many of which would not carry over from the small; details matter; thatís probably why I donít get overly emotional about the micro-world, even though I write about them constantly and find dismal processes at work.
24:33:11 Itís often said human ingenuity will find ways to overcome environmental problems; many say material consumption can be expected to grow indefinitely even for a world population of 9.5 billion or more, so long that is we store waste carefully; they are applauded by business and the media for having shown that only a minor tweaking of business as usual is all thatís required to avoid unsustainable development; the Economistís preposterous columns promoting Bjorn Lomborgís 2001 book is a recent example; they were empirically and analytically worthless pieces of journalism; no one and no system, not even capitalism, can fool nature; you try to fool her by resorting to a technological fix and she throws up an entirely unexpected side effect thatís often worse than the problem you helped fix; the study of geographically confined ecosystems has shown over and over again that they can flip into degraded states that are either hard to reverse or impossible to reverse; the same has been found for human communities; publicity over global climate change is probably the first dent on the belief that insults to nature are invariably reversible; if the mean temperature goes up by 5 degrees beyond what it is now, Earth will have entered a regime it hasn't visited in a million years; thereís little in the form of hard data to show what that would imply for life; at the time of the industrial revolution global human impact on nature was negligible; even the social value of natural resources was low, at least at the global level; thereís a sense in which my profession has been obsessed with the economic happenings of the past 250 years; but thatís a wink of time in a span that covers 10,000 years of sedentary life; economic models typically place a zero value to natural capital, as say in GDP estimates, so they donít confront tradeoffs among the various forms of capital assets; we economists are gradually admitting that nature ought to be priced a lot higher in economic calculations; but there are powerful vested interests in the world, not only in the West, who donít want to see that happen; but if natural capital remains cheap, scientists and technologists will have no reason to engage in R&D thatís directed at economising on our reliance on it; during the past 250 years technological innovations have been rapacious in their use of natural capital for that very reason; today, market fundamentalism allied to a low price of natural capital is the order of the day; my work hasnít made the slightest difference to the dominant view that population growth and nature can be neglected; development economists continue to write textbooks in which village life in Africa and the Indian sub-continent is disconnected from the local natural resource base, on which life is based there; my friend and collaborator Karl-Goran Maler and I realised some years ago that the only way to introduce natural capital into teaching material in poor countries would be to teach economic teachers there directly; the MacArthur Foundation offered me a good bit of money to start a teaching and research programme involving young economists in the Indian sub-continent; that must have proved useful to those who attended the courses, because in time they suggested forming a network; Maler and I helped to find more funds to establish the South Asian Network of Development and Environmental Economists, or SANDEE as itís commonly known; we also established a journal at Cambridge University Press; its remit involves intellectual support for submissions from poor countries, such that even though the editors ensure that submissions are peer-reviewed, economists in developing countries have been able to publish there on a regular basis; our particular capacity-building activity has been a success; in other respects though my work at the poverty-population-environment interface has been a failure, it hasnít influenced official development economists one bit; that said, my friends and colleagues seem to like the idea that I work on these problems; I receive honours on a regular basis, election to the worldís greatest Academies for example; the affection that must lie behind the honours is most gratifying, but the intellectual neglect is deflating; the matter puzzles me no end.
32:48:07 Iím not sure I know whatís been my most important work, in any case itís for others to judge; with but one exception I havenít had a research agenda, largely because excepting for the odd occasion, Iíve never had an intellectual mission; friendship has mattered a great deal to me, and a lot of my most cited work has been with others, always with friends; with one of them, Eric Maskin, I have published papers that have taken a dozen years from start and finish; in today's world, at least in economics, thatís an unthinkable delay; but as our families have enjoyed each otherís company, weíve goofed a lot, eating into work time; I have never felt much urgency about my work, nor have I felt it was socially important, that I can make a difference; that feeling has been re-enforced by the relative neglect of my work by my peers; I enjoy chasing problems if they strike me as interesting; Iíve almost always kept away from problems that were in fashion among my peers, not because I didnít think the problems were interesting, but because Iím not confident I would win a race; that may explain why I have usually framed problems others havenít noticed; Iím talking now mostly about work that I have done on my own; even those must have been fairly good, at least those that were published, otherwise editors wouldnít have accepted them; in fact Iíve been phenomenally lucky with professional journals; editors have been very kind to me; that luck has mattered because when working on my own Iíve rarely caught the bird I was trying to catch in one go; some of my ideas, for example on optimum population I talked about earlier, have taken me years, literally decades, to come to fruition; meanwhile though I was able to publish versions in progress; Iíve rarely had a big "eureka" moment, itís almost always been incremental understanding; I like to think I understand the social world better now than I did even a couple of decades ago, but it would be presumptuous of me to say whether Iíve had important insights; Iíve worked on absolute poverty a lot because I have tried to understand the phenomenon with the same rigour that colleagues study well-functioning societies, such as economies harbouring perfect markets; it seems to me we economists differ from cultural anthropologists in as much as we believe people everywhere are statistically the same; so, when one sees differences among peoples, we feel those differences require explanation; some differences will be sticky, some fluid, some will take a long time to emerge, others fast; you have to look at the data with the discipline of theory to see whatís a slow-moving variable and whatís fast-moving; over the long haul even culture isnít an explanatory variable for economists because we feel cultural differences need to be explained as well; the question arises why some variables are more sticky than others; what I have tried to do in a systematic way is to try and put the concerns of anthropologists, political scientists, geographers, demographers, and ecologists into one pot, mixing them with those of economists, so as to understand whatís been going on in Sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia, and parts of Latin America, with the kind of precision that my economics colleagues have insisted on for understanding Western liberal democracies and market economies; the parts of the world I have studied most are non-market economies or are substantially affected by institutions that are neither markets nor the state; Iíve tried to study households and communities, looking for a common framework for understanding the lives of people in very different socio-ecological environments; itís relatively easy to specify the circumstances faced by households, nor is it too difficult to determine how households would respond to those circumstances in their choice of consumption, work, reproduction, and networking among one another; the hard bit is to feed all that into a coherent account of the evolution of the socio-ecological system; thatís really hard; when I say I understand the social world much better than I did twenty five years ago, I mean only that I have unearthed a few of those pathways.
41:55:18 Iím by temperament not a scholar, Iíve rarely ever thought about a problem or read a book without an eventual publication in mind; thatís why I could never have become an ďintellectualĒ, let alone a ďpublicĒ intellectual; in fact Iím hugely wary of them; when I read intellectuals in literary magazines, usually over coffee in the Common Room following lunch, I find them to be saying a lot thatís clothed in fine phrases, scholarship, literary allusions, irony, and wit, about nothing in particular; Iím drawn to professionals; they know what they are talking about, they have something original to say, and they know the limits of their understanding because they are able to define those limits; they also like to use evidence to inform their accounts; in my case even conversations with friends often revolve around the problem Iím currently working on; in all these years there was only one period when I really was driven by a project; that was when I worked on my 1993 book, An Inquiry into Well-Being and Destitution; I made it a point to sit next to Jack Goody at lunch in college so as to question him about the structure of African societies; the great teacher that he is, a question usually elicited a half-hour tutorial; I learnt ecology at the feet of Paul Ehrlich and had tutorials with John Waterlow on the physiology of under-nutrition; what I was trying to do in my book was to complete a jigsaw puzzle about the circumstances in which rural people in poor countries are born, the way they live, and the manner in which they die, all seen through the lens of an overarching resource allocation problem; my inquiry involved proving theorems, studying quantitative evidence, listening to teachers like Arrow, Ehrlich, Goody, and Waterlow, and reading qualitative ethnographic studies; I gathered material from professional journals, books, conversations, and newspaper articles; in fact everything I read or listened to spoke to my book; I worked on the book even while washing up in the kitchen or playing with my children or engaged in conversation at dinner parties; itís the nearest I have come to being obsessed; I wouldnít say people should avoid such obsession, but itís hard on oneís family; fortunately, it lasted only three years; once the book was published I was exhausted, but gradually returned to my care-free way of life; until my children left home I never had a study; Iíve always worked at the dining table, even when the children were young and noisy; Iíve been able to concentrate even while my children have played in the same room, often while they sat on my lap; noise doesn't affect my concentration; Iím not boasting, merely stating a fact thatís stood me in good stead; my generation of fathers werenít hands-on, unlike fathers today; but I canít ever remember my children not coming to me for help or succour on grounds that I was working; thatís one thing I am proud of, because it meant my children never felt my work was more important than they; I was just their father, they treated me with affection; in recent years they have added an indulgent attitude toward me; my wife and I have three children, two girls and a boy, all now grown up; our oldest child Zubeida is an educational psychologist, working for the Local Council in Sussex, our next child is Shamik, who is in his first year as an Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department at Princeton University, and our youngest, Aisha, I still refer to her as our little one, is a demographer and is currently working in Malawi on reproductive health, for Marie Stopes International; I met my wife, Carol, on a train to London, the 16:36 to Liverpool Street, on 16 April 1966; to put it bluntly, I picked her up; a week later, on our first walk together, it was a Sunday walk to Coton, you could do that through agricultural fields in those days, I told her we would get married; she said ďweíll seeĒ, which to me meant ďyesĒ; we married a couple of years later, as soon as she had sat for her final undergraduate exams at the LSE and I had undergone my PhD orals; it was unthinkable that we would live together before marriage, our parents would have been mortified; one night some years ago, in 1989 if I remember correctly, at Stanford, I brooded about the peripatetic life I had led since childhood and felt desolate that I had no place I could call ďhomeĒ; and then it struck me that I was mistaking home for a place, that home for me was Carol; Iíve never again worried about the absence of a geographic root in my life; Carol is a psychotherapist and has recently taken early retirement from the University counseling service; she had a private practice for some time but gave it up to work exclusively for the University; we don't discuss economics over breakfast.
46:28:10 I enjoy teaching and have found it easy, probably because Iíve never been asked to lecture from textbooks; I use a lot of my own work in my courses, even undergraduate courses; so teaching has complemented my research; I feel as there are textbooks on the technicalities on whatever I happen to be teaching, itís pointless for me to work through them, particularly in Cambridge where there is a painstaking tutorial system; I try to develop ideas on how to give shape to an incoherent thought by transforming vague ideas into formal models, based on my own work; that doesn't mean students necessarily like my way of doing things in class, but on the whole I get pretty good reports from them; administration has never been a problem for me, I have enjoyed that, as part of my job; I taught at the London School of Economics from 1971-1984, arriving as a young lecturer and becoming a professor in 1978; I came here as a professor in 1985 and have been involved in faculty administration from the start; that was a salutary experience, because when I arrived here I found the Cambridge Economics Faculty to be awful; a number of significant figures from the 1930s, Joan Robinson, Nicky Kaldor, and Richard Kahn had wanted to protect Cambridge economics from the increased post-War use in the US of maths and stats; they conducted a secret economics seminar to which only chosen colleagues were invited; that they used ideology to determine an economic argument was bad enough, but they also mistook technical tools for ideology, for which the university paid a heavy price for a long while; they were Keynesís disciples, and when I say disciples I mean DISCIPLES; as far as I can tell these renowned economists established an intellectual tone† that not only led to James Meade's resignation from his professorship in political economy six years before he was due to retire, but also one that their immediate successors in the professoriate were at pains to follow; but the successors had few intellectual credentials, and right through the 1970s they encouraged the appointment of mediocrities so long as they in turn showed a disdain toward modern economics; this was common knowledge in other universities of course, a matter of satisfaction there because it meant Cambridge wasnít competing in economics; nevertheless, I accepted an offer from Cambridge because of two reasons; first, my wife and I felt it would be easier to educate our children in Cambridge, and second, I had begun to realise that my work was increasingly taking a direction where I needed biological scientists to guide me; Cambridge was packed with outstanding biological scientists, the LSE had none; when I arrived in Cambridge in 1985 I thought I had entered a cesspool; my College St Johnís was my refuge, a fact I remind myself of whenever I find the collegiate system obstructive to the universityís intended functions; the Faculty of Economics in 1985 was wholly politicized and filled with mediocre people; they didnít lack self-confidence though; they were able to shelter themselves from outside competition by virtue of a lack of central directives from the university; the college system also gave them separate power bases; thatís one weakness of the collegiate system; say your college has a Fellow in economics; as he is the only economist in the Fellowship, his is the only voice thatís heard in Hall or at Governing Body meetings; so you come to believe what he says about his subject or about others in his department; he tells you there are different methods of doing economics, even different schools of thought, each having equal merit; that convinces you, especially when he breathes the words ďdiversity of viewpointsĒ or ďheterodoxyĒ in your ear; I found that the two other economics professors at the time, Frank Hahn and Robin Matthews, both internationally renowned, the only two Fellows of the British Academy in the Faculty, were routinely outvoted in Faculty Board deliberations on matters having to do with teaching, research, and appointments; the electoral rules made no sense to me; the Faculty Board was all powerful, but in effect was able to elect itself, because it controlled who could vote in Faculty Board elections; so the process harboured two stable equilibria; it was the misfortune of the university that the Faculty of Economics had been kicked into the wrong equilibrium by Keynesí original disciples; no doubt Fellows in other disciplines were told by colleagues in my Faculty that Hahn and Matthews were neo-classical economists, a term of abuse among progressives at Cambridge in those days; people in other disciplines wouldnít have been expected to know that by the 1970s the term had become meaningless; if you were from the Humanities, it wouldnít strike you as odd that there could be Schools of Thought in the quantitative social sciences; if you were a natural scientist you wouldnít care one way or the other, the Humanities and Social Sciences were impenetrable anyway; I was bewildered when I first arrived here, the Great and Good of the University appeared to believe all those faculty members in economics were professionally just as able as Hahn and Matthews; external credentials didnít seem to matter in Cambridge; in comparison, LSE was a dream place; as it was my first appointment, I was protected there by my senior colleagues for several years, among whom were Peter Bauer, Terence Gorman, Harry Johnson, Michio Morishima, Denis Sargan, and Amartya Sen; thatís a galaxy of stars; they differed politically but seemed to be united over what constitutes original work; so I knew something about the way academic excellence can be realised in a department; the Cambridge Faculty of Economics and the allied Department of Applied Economics in contrast resembled a failed Court of early-Modern times; on the rare occasion I managed to squeeze in the right appointment, I had to take recourse to underhand practice; I hated that, it was corrupting; matters changed once the Research Assessment Exercise was instituted by the government; the Faculty of Economics scored a 4, which concentrated the minds of the university authorities; I guess over time I gained the confidence of colleagues in the university; I was Chairman for five years and enjoyed that greatly; today my Chairman is an outstanding theorist, someone I managed to slip through an unsuspecting appointments committee a couple of years after I had arrived here; a failing Department of Applied Economics has been shut down, which has helped the Faculty to get a lot better; but ruining a department is easy, rebuilding it is extremely hard; itís taken more than a decade to make us look attractive; today real stars from abroad express interest in moving to Cambridge; we have also a number of excellent young lecturers; but competition from other universities is great; I donít believe the Economics Faculty in Cambridge will be as dominant as it was in the 1950s and Ď60s, even nationally; LSE, University College London, and Oxford surpass us in quality and will continue to do so for some time; we are now pretty good though; thatís not a bad turn of fortune for a Faculty that turned its back on the subject for so many years.
53:04:23 You ask whether the resurgence of Asia is sustainable; Iím no good at forecasting, especially about such weighty issues; but about the past I am a lot more impressed by the Enlightenment than my Western colleagues; China and India had their triumphant times, as did the Caliphates, but I think there is something distinctive about the Enlightenment which I don't read anywhere else in world history; itís hard to put oneís finger on what was so novel in the Enlightenment experience; the historian David Landes has tried to nail it down; he suggested that because Europe was not a monolithic political entity, say in contrast to China, it was fertile ground for competition in ideas; recently Landesí observation came home to me when reading Keplerís travails; Kepler periodically had to find refuge in neighbouring states because of his religious beliefs; fortunately there were neighbouring states to go to; the Enlightenment transformed reasonable knowledge into a universally useable commodity; people of all sorts had access to knowledge and could run for their lives to a place of safety only a few hours away if their findings were at variance with local orthodoxy; intellectual historians no doubt say that this feature was present from time to time in other societies too, but daily life was influenced by the enlightenment project in Europe in a way I don't read or see elsewhere; if you ask me whether Europe is likely to remain a world leader in science in three hundred years time, I wouldnít have the faintest idea, but the Enlightenment unleashed something I have not seen anywhere else in my understanding of history; Jack Goody and I are close friends, and although he demurs when I insist there was something exceptional in the European experience, I canít help thinking that democratic institutions on a large scale didnít develop anywhere else previously; it seems to me the Enlightenment was a necessary setting for that; itís useful to remember that for all the weaknesses in the data, average incomes didn't rise until pretty recently in any part of the world; Angus Maddison's estimates of GDP per capita over the past 2000 years are useful; they help to draw our attention away from the great mosques, temples, palaces, and castles of the past that dazzle us into imagining that those earlier civilizations must have been economic golden ages; they werenít, most people were abysmally poor, living at not much more than a dollar a day; Maddison reckons income per capita didnít increase much anywhere till about 1500 CE; until then, if averaged over the centuries starting from Roman times, GDP per capita even in Europe grew at a snail's pace, I worked it out to be about .002% per year over a 1500 period over most of the world; if the processes that led to the contemporary West began in 1500, at a time when Europeís income per head was only about three times as in the Roman period, then you have some explaining to do; the standard of living didnít rise in Africa, India or China, but it did in Europe.