Central European Émigrés at the Oxford Institute of Statistics: War, Economics and Politics in the 1940s

29 February 2012, 12:00 - 14:00

Alison Richard Building, ground floor, SG1

Dr Agnes Simon (History) presents at the CRASSH Postdoctoral Research Seminar.

The event is free to attend but registration is required as a sandwich lunch is provided. Please use the link at the right hand side of the page to register online.

Abstract

During the Second World War the Oxford Institute of Statistics (OIS), originally founded in 1935 in an effort to strengthen Oxford’s credentials as a research centre in economics, became the intellectual home of a group of continental economists and social scientists. They were all born or originally educated in German-speaking Central Europe and escaped persecution and the rise of right-wing regimes in their home countries. Among them were the founding director, Jacob Marschak, followed by such notable economists as the German F. A. Burchardt, Kurt Mandelbaum, E. F. Schumacher, the Austrian Josef Steindl, the Polish Michal Kalecki and the Hungarian Thomas Balogh. With their native British counterparts drafted into the wartime civil service and war effort, the foreign-born economists researched the impact of war on the various sectors of the economy and planned for post-war economic reconstruction of British and the global economy. They focused on inflation and war finance, economic controls and mobilisation of industry and the post-war shape of the international monetary system. They published a collection of essays entitled The Economics of Full Employment in 1944 that dealt with the economic implications of a regime of full employment seen as the chief aim in the post-war world. These activities show that this was a rather unique, and not very well-known, episode in the history of refugee academics in Britain. This seminar will look at the membership of the OIS and their work while in Oxford in the 1940s in order to give an overview of their understanding of the economic problems facing Britain during and after the war.

The wartime history of the OIS is part of a much larger project which is intending to merge the study of intellectual migration, that is the research into the movement of intellectuals and academics between countries and the effects of this on their lives and work and on the academic discipline in which they are active, and the history of economics as a modern social science discipline, together with not just its theoretical development but also its professionalisation and institutionalisation. These two broader subjects are connected by the more specific problem of how biography might relate to the history of economic thinking. Simply put, the question to be addressed here will be whether it matters if an economist is an émigré, and how that immigrant status might change his or her economics, on the one hand, and how a social science discipline, in this case economics, and its history, institutionalisation and intellectual networks might be crucially influenced by the migration of its practitioners. This research fits easily into the recent new history of social sciences that acknowledges the long-term changes in the boundaries of academic disciplines, and also contributes to such issues as the role of the academic as an expert and commentator in wider society and the possible linkages between academic and public discourse.

About Agnes Simon

Agnes Simon holds a PhD in economic history from Cambridge University. Her current research interests include intellectual migration and its links to the history of economic thinking and policy-making, and more broadly the history of modern social sciences and their position and role in the wider political, social and cultural sphere. Her article 'Intellectual migration and economic thought: Central European émigré economists and the history of modern economics’ will be published in 2012 in a special issue of the History of European Ideas on intellectual networks and exchanges, the proceedings of a workshop held at Wolfson College, Cambridge in 2010. She is also working on a monograph about Hungarian-born British economists active in post-war British politics and economic policy-making.