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Faculty of Economics

Remembering Geoff Harcourt, author of the Cambridge Controversies.

 

Professor Geoff Harcourt

The Faculty of Economics is saddened to announce that world renown economist Geoff Harcourt has passed away at the age of 90.

After struggling at school, despite help from a very academic twin brother, Harcourt excelled as a student at the University of Melbourne in the Commerce Department and at Queens College, (tutored by eminent Labour Economist Joe Isaac).

After completing his M.Comm at Melbourne, Harcourt won a PhD scholarship to study at Kings College at the University of Cambridge, the College of John Maynard Keynes. There he met Joan Bartrop of Ballarat in Australia, whom he married straight after graduation before they went to Cambridge.

Born in Australia, he was very much a Cambridge man, he gained his PhD at Cambridge University, and visited to lecture in 1964-1966, 1972-1973 and 1980. He then decided to move to Cambridge on a more permanent basis from 1982 to 1998.

After Geoff Harcourt arrived in Cambridge he immersed himself in ‘Keynes’s Circle’ the students and heirs of Keynes himself, famous economists like Nicholas Kaldor, Richard Kahn, and Piero Sraffa. Irrespective of his achievements and passions, Geoff was always down-to-earth, interested in people, quick with witty and insightful comments. He would often spend time with undergraduates, discussing economic theory, and indeed he often said that he preferred students who disagreed with him – as it meant they had listened to the arguments, and then used their own mind. He was able to listen with intent or hold forth on topics ranging from the latest economics seminar he attended, through to the time he was at a tea party with Winston Churchill at Buckingham Palace.

 

Geoff Harcourt talking to students

 

A Fellow of Trinity Hall 1964–66, He was president of Jesus College for most of the period 1988 to 1992. He was on the University Council for eight years, and retained the title of Emeritus Reader in the History of Economic Theory, Cambridge, and Emeritus Fellow, Jesus College, Cambridge.

He is well remembered in the Faculty of Economics, and around the world, for his best-known work which revolved around Cambridge, “Some Cambridge Controversies in the Theory of Capital”.

This refers to an argument about the nature of capital between economists from the University of Cambridge and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, based in Cambridge in the United States.

He later described himself as having become a “pin-up boy for students of economic theory” in the 1970s with his book, which laid bare an argument that raged between British and US economists of two differing theoretical and mathematical positions in economics that started in the 1950s and lasted well into the 1960s on the nature and role of capital goods and a critique of the neoclassical vision of aggregate production and distribution.

He has made major contributions to the understanding of the ideas of Keynes, Joan Robinson and other Cambridge economists. He has also made important contributions in his own right to post-Keynesian and post-Kaleckian theory. He is also a member of the editorial board of Cambridge Journal of Economics. One of his first lectureships at Cambridge came via the celebrated economist Joan Robinson. He co-wrote the definitive intellectual biography of her, and argued, like many others, that she should have been the first woman to win the Economics Nobel Prize.

"I am so sorry to hear of Geoff's passing," said the Faculty's Professor Sriya Iyer. "Geoff was a wonderful colleague - a kind and considerate person who always made time to talk to students and colleagues about their research, and to offer valuable advice on books and papers. He was immensely loyal to Cambridge Economics, to his College Jesus, and was a benign presence in the Faculty. Like other former undergraduate and graduate students, I remember with fondness his 'Bible-reading' classes on Keynes's General Theory and his Part 2A Macroeconomics lectures on economic growth. A knowledgeable, witty and widely-read communicator of economics, we will all miss him greatly. He and his wife Joan were an integral part of the Cambridge Economics community for many years, and we offer our sincere condolences to his family at this difficult time."

He made a life-long commitment to work toward alleviating poverty and against social and racial discrimination, and later became one of Australia's most eminent economists. He authored or edited 29 books and published over 380 articles, chapters in books and reviews. A Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in the UK, he was made an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia for services to Economic Theory and to the History of Economic Thought.

The Faculty sends it’s condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues. His funeral was held in Matraville, in Sydney, followed by a Celebration of his Life at Yarra Bay Sailing Club in New South Wales.

On the occasion of his 80th Birthday, he was interviewed by the University of Cambridge Communications Manager Julian Lorkin, when he discussed his famous book:

 

 

Read the ‘Cambridge Controversies’:
https://www.jstor.org/stable/2720556?refreqid=excelsior%3A0f89fc4563aaa392407c0578b8a19816