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Victoria Chick, 1936-2023 in memoriam

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From Jesper Jespersen Personal recollection How I met Vicky I was on a one year sabbatical leave at Cambridge University, King’s College by invitation of Professor Wynne Godley in the year 1988/89. Seriously speaking I was surprised, because except for Godley there were only few economists left at the Faculty, who called him-/herself Keynesian. The old guard of Keynes’ disciples had disappeared: Joan Robinson and Nicholas Kaldor were no longer alive; Richard Kahn very fragile. Furthermore, the chairs of the old Keynes-guard were taken over by upcoming and increasingly dominating neoclassical economists of whom Frank Hahn at Churchill College was the most prominent at that time. Fortunately, there were still some Keynes-scholars left as tutors at the Colleges, who gathered ‘dissenters

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from Jesper Jespersen

Personal recollection

How I met Vicky

I was on a one year sabbatical leave at Cambridge University, King’s College by invitation of Professor Wynne Godley in the year 1988/89. Seriously speaking I was surprised, because except for Godley there were only few economists left at the Faculty, who called him-/herself Keynesian. The old guard of Keynes’ disciples had disappeared: Joan Robinson and Nicholas Kaldor were no longer alive; Richard Kahn very fragile.

Furthermore, the chairs of the old Keynes-guard were taken over by upcoming and increasingly dominating neoclassical economists of whom Frank Hahn at Churchill College was the most prominent at that time. Fortunately, there were still some Keynes-scholars left as tutors at the Colleges, who gathered ‘dissenters and critical realists’ for evening seminars, but with waning influence on the teaching at the Faculty.

I felt that I had to look around for more Keynes-scholars. Fortunately, I knew Vicky’s name and her two books: Monetary Theory and Policy and Macroeconomics After Keynes. . So, I wrote her a letter (no e-mails at that time) and asked if I could come and see her in London. She responded immediately ‘by all means come and join us for the coming seminar organized by the newly formed Post Keynesian Study Group’.  Fortunately, this new window for ‘post-Keynesian thinking’ was grasped enthusiastically by a number of otherwise isolated scholars in the UK, with Vicky Chick, Philip Arestis, (in London), Malcolm Sawyer in Leeds and Geoff Harcourt commuting between Australia and Jesus College, Cambridge as driving forces; and quite quickly the membership expanded outside UK: Italy, France, Brazil, Australia and South Africa, and of course in cooperation with post-Keynesian scholars in the US, where Paul Davidson was the leading figure.

The Post-Keynesian Economic Study Group established in 1988 met occasionally and rather informally – a kind of continuation of the Great Malvern conferences organised by John Pheby, founder and editor of the Review of Political Economy, which had dried up in the 1980s. On and off a collection of papers from the meetings was published in close cooperation with Edward Elgar Publishing House.

The importance of this initiative for Post-Keynesian scholars cannot be exaggerated because this informal network of ‘dissenting economists’ became a safe haven for the development of realistic macroeconomic theory and later, with strong support from Vicky and Sheila Dow, with increased focus on macroeconomic methodology.

Vicky an eminent Keynes-scholar

Vicky was an eminent and very dedicated Keynes scholar – The collected writings of JMK her ‘bible’. ‘It’s all in Keynes’ or rather it is all in Keynes’s (1936) The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. – Her only regret was that Keynes did not call his book ‘The Economics of Time, Uncertainty and Finance’. I dare say that Vicky spent a major part of her academic life explaining, why Keynes’s Methodology differed fundamentally from neoclassical (macro)economic ideas.

Read, or re-read, her outstanding volume on Macroeconomics after Keynes published way back in 1981. There she goes through The General Theory – chapter by chapter – carefully explaining that Keynes’s method is neither a Marshallian ‘partial equilibrium’ or a Pigovian ‘general equilibrium’. She regretted that Keynes had not given up the use of the analytical concept called ‘equilibrium’ – especially when he described the likely macroeconomic analytical outcome as a permanent ‘Unemployment Equilibrium’  – referring to Great Britain in the 1920s and 1930s. Keynes had, in fact, already in the preface to the General Theory  predicted that his neoclassical colleagues would accuse him for being either ‘totally wrong’ (unemployment equilibrium) or saying nothing new (except for the consequences of sticky wages and prices). As Vicky explains in her book, Keynes had anticipated that his opponents would never read into the GT as far as to chapter 19: ‘Changes in Money-wages’, where Keynes demonstrates that flexible wages might even aggravate unemployment. The existence of sticky money wages was one of the principal factors that contributed to the stability of the economy system which allowed for a permanent growth trajectory; they had nothing to do with disequilibrium unemployment as was believed by Keynes’s predecessors and those who followed and unfortunately (misleadingly) calling themselves ‘New-Keynesian’ (sic!)

Again and again Vicky would say to me: ‘Jesper, it’s all about methodology’. Not until I came across ‘Critical Realism’ in the late 1990s, where Tony Lawson (in Cambridge) was instrumental, did I begin to understand, why we cannot ‘just do economics’ as the late Frank Hahn at Churchill College repeatedly said. The core issue is about ‘How to do economics’, which I ever since have spent hours and hours of conversation with Vicky to understand. As a true mentor and friend she had limitless patience with me: ”Jesper, listen: time, uncertainty and finance go together”. Time is about reality, where economic activities do not and cannot happen at the very same time. Uncertainty is about expectation (and lack of knowledge).” To mention the Lucasian concept of ‘rational expectations’ could make Vicky furious: “No, Jesper, ‘rational expectations’ should be understood as ‘common sense behaviour’: a reasonable belief of what the future might bring given available information”. Finally, Finance is what makes the discrepancy between decisions to save and to undertake real investment into two analytically separated activities – contrary to General Equilibrium!

These conversations in her sitting room in Denning Road with a view on Hampstead Heath did end up with a published book, which could have been called ‘Macroeconomics after Keynes’, volume II.  Vicky was immensely generous with her ideas, so it became my ‘Macroeconomic Methodology: a Post-Keynesian Perspective’. Without Vicky there would have been no book. She spent endless hours reading, rereading, and offering suggestions that made the book happen. Vicky took it upon herself to offer that gift to so many scholars in our circle. So much of the quality of the work that has been published in Post-Keynesian spirit has Vicky’s imprint in some way or another.

The legacy of Vicky

Fortunately, Vicky’s name will be on the cover of the Handbook of Macroeconomic Methodology, Routledge, July 2023. Vicky, I and Bert Tieben have for nearly 10 years worked on this Handbook. Vicky was the driving force behind the Handbook, which contains 29 papers on Macroeconomic Methodology. And Vicky, as you can imagine, had strong opinions on all the papers. They all had to pass, what I’ll call the “Vicky-test” of solid content and clarity. One could always expect comments in the margins that would begin with ‘What do you mean?’. On top of that editorial work she contributed to the handbook with three papers:

Open/closed system analysis                                                     Victoria Chick

Holism & Fallacy of Composition in macroeconomics                         Victoria Chick & Jesper Jespersen

Keynes’s Methodology                                     Victoria Chick & Jesper Jespersen

Trust me, nothing comes easy, when the high scholarly Vicky-standard was to be fulfilled. It has taken nearly 10 years and an exchange of hundreds and hundreds of e-mails across the North Sea and many visits to Hampstead to finalize this Handbook of MM (with very fine support from Bert Tieben.)

As late as November last year Vicky was able to give her approval to the Introduction of the Handbook, and even the Preface written in December I could read to her on the phone, and she had, of course, a few but as always constructive and very relevant comments. She would have loved to see the Handbook in print, but when having finalized the Introduction, she said: Jesper: I am proud of what we have made!

I can only say that the profession has by the death of Vicky lost an outstanding and very devoted academic scholar. Her colleagues in and around the Post-Keynesian society have learned so much by talking and even more important by listening to her. But this opportunity of communication occurred only with those people, she considered as taking a serious and honest interest into the understanding of real world macroeconomics.

With Vicky’s death I have lost a great mentor and a dear friend. I am reasonably sure that Vicky would have turned to me and said: “Jesper, don’t be sentimental, the torch has to be carried on.” And so it will in deep respect of Vicky’s legacy.

 

 References

Chick, Victoria (1973) The Theory of Monetary Policy, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Chick, Victoria (1983), Macroeconomics after Keynes: a Reconsideration of The General Theory, Oxford, Philip Allen Publish.

Chick, Victoria (2001) ‘Victoria CHICK (born 1936)’, in A Biographical Dictionary of Dissenting Economists, 2nd edition, Philip Arestis and Malcolm Sawyer (Eds.), Cheltenham, Edward Elgar, pp. 101-07

Chick, V., J. Jespersen & B. Tieben (2023), (eds.) Handbook of Macroeconomic Methodology, Routledge (forthcoming)

Jespersen, J. (2009), Macroeconomic Methodology – a Post-Keynesian Perspective’, Cheltenham, Edward Elgar.

Snowdon, B., H. Vane & P. Wynarczyk (1994), An interview with Victoria Chick in A Modern Guide to Macroeconomics: An introduction to competing Schools of Thought, Edward Elgar, p. 398-407

. . . . .
By Jesper Jespersen, Roskilde University, Denmark,  e-mail: [email protected]

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