Mark Blaug, 1927-2011

Mark Blaug was the leading historian of economic thought of his generation, and the successive editions of his Economic Theory in Retrospect make the insights of the classical economists accessible to today’s mathematically-tooled students. He also wrote the best text on The Methodology of Economics since Robbins.

Mark was a slightly renegade classical liberal. Although he did not buy the full Austrian ticket, he recognised that this School’s approach to competition was far superior to the textbook versions of the standard model, itself an unholy amalgam of Marshall, Walras and Joan Robinson. Robinson, incidentally, was one of his bêtes noirs for her role in developing the Cambridge theories of capital, which he expertly anatomised and effectively refuted in a Hobart Paper for the IEA.

For much of his career Mark was based at London University’s Institute of Education and there he largely established the economics of education as a discipline in the UK. Although he often advised governments, he grew to be very critical of publicly- financed education, especially in the Third World where wholesale corruption was often allied to poor economic and educational policy. He was a particular critic of what he described as the ‘vocational fallacy’ in education, which leads governments – the current coalition being no different from its predecessor – to believe that it knows better than the market what employers need. He was also an early advocate of student loans.

Mark also made significant contributions to the economics of the arts, still an under-developed area.

He was a member of the original Planning Board for the private University of Buckingham and became in 1977 its first external examiner in Economics. Later he became Consultant Professor at the University and led a research group in the economics of unemployment in the 1980s: I met him at that time.

Mark led an extremely active “retirement”, including taking posts at the Universities of Exeter, Amsterdam and Rotterdam (he was of Dutch origin, spending the war in the UK and the United States).

He was an elected Fellow of the British Academy, and a memorial event will be held there next Thursday, 19th January, at 6pm.

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