Monday, June 24, 2024

Paul Davidson (1930-2024)


Paul (I'm next to him) and the Brazilians at the UMKC, PK Conference in 2002

Paul has passed away a few days ago. He wasn't in good shape for a while, and this was expected. He lived a long and productive life. I wasn't personally close to him, even though I met him several times from the mid-1990s onward. He went to two conferences I co-organized at the Federal University in Rio, always with Louise, which was a central figure of Post Keynesian (PK) life, and basically run the Journal of Post Keynesian Economics (JPKE) for him.

He was more effective as an institutional organizer, and as an observer of economic reality (and his main book was called Money and the Real World) than in his theoretical endeavors. His views on Keynes stayed close to the flawed discussion of the Principle of Effective Demand in chapter 3 of the General Theory, and an insistence on the importance of uncertainty and non-ergodicity in Keynes' work, that proved to be somewhat of a dead alley for PKs. He also emphasized the ideas of Tony Thirlwall, and his export-led model of growth, as a central PK contribution to economic theory. Finally, he tended to accept the views of Robert Skidelsky on Keynes' intellectual development, who, as I noted here, accepted a conventional on interpretation of Keynes' ideas, relying on imperfections to explain unemployment, even if he provided a much needed accurate biography of Keynes (in contrast to Harrod).

JPKE, that he created with Sidney Weintraub, and help from John Kenneth Galbraith among others, was central for a generation of PKs. He was part of the Trieste Summer Conferences that, in the early 1980s, that included many heterodox groups, and was the closest to Marc Lavoie's broad tent in real life, but failed to provide a unified view, and an alternative to mainstream marginalist theory. Many thought that the PK project was sectarian, and could not incorporate other views. I tend to think that the failure resulted from the fragmentation of the mainstream, that was reflected in the fragmentation of the heterodoxy, and were part of the era. Certainly not Paul's fault, who, at least in my experience, was very open and willing to debate, even if he did stick to his views. At least, not his personal fault.

When LP (Rochon) invited me to start a new journal, more or less at the time Paul was substituted as the editor of the JPKE by Jan Kregel and Randy Wray, on PK monetary economics, I suggested we needed a journal that would bring other Keynesians into the conversation. Hence, the Review of Keynesian Economics (ROKE).* Paul wrote to me once he knew about the new name of the journal. I knew from him that they had thought of naming their journal the Journal of Keynesian Economics, but the acronym would have been JOKE, so they opted for Post Keynesian, and the name stuck to the school of thought. He wasn't happy. But he understood that our project was very different.

Ours was not a journal to propagate the ideas of the heterodox followers of Keynes, and to emphasize the notion that effective demand mattered, at times that Keynesians were under attack with the neoliberal turn, and the rise of Monetarism and New Classical economics (Paul was in the book of debaters with Milton Friedman, that included also Jim Tobin, and a few other more conventional Keynesians). Ours was an attempt to recreate a Keynesian big tent (not an heterodox one) to reinforce the commonalities with all Keynesians (in spite of the many differences).

Paul was combative, forceful in his discussions, particularly about Keynes' legacy, and a key figure in the preservation of Keynesian ideas, when those were considerably less popular, and the profession moved incorrectly away from the Keynesian Consensus. Later many would gladly talk about the return of the master. Paul never abandoned him, and he was right. A great loss for the profession.

* On that see Tom Palley here and my discussion of Bob Solow's role here.

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