Lionel Robbins and Bretton Woods

I only recently became aware of Susan Howson’s biography Lionel Robbins, published in 2011. Robbins, perhaps best known today for his Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science (1932), was a British delegate to the Bretton Woods conference. He also wrote a number of other important books and articles; was instrumental in making the London School of Economics a world leader in economics; became chairman of Britain’s National Gallery; served as a director of the Financial Times; and had many other achievements. For his contributions he was given a peerage as Lord Robbins of Clare Market (Clare Market being the area where the London School of Economics is).

Howson’s biography exceeds 1,000 pages, so I am reading only select chapters. Its treatment of Bretton Woods is brief, but elsewhere in the book I came across two interesting tidbits. One is that Robbins was asked to be the first chief economist of the IMF. Harry Dexter White, among others, was keen on having him in the job (see page 646 of Howson’s book). Robbins was, however, too attached to the London School of Economics to leave it. He continued as a teacher and administrator there until retiring, and remained associated with the school until his death.

The other tidbit is that Kenneth Boulding was a student of Robbins during the brief time Robbins taught at the University of Oxford. Boulding was later a professor of economics at the University of Colorado, where CFS Special Counselor Steve Hanke (coauthor of the preface to The Bretton Woods Transcripts) was one of his students, and later still a professor at George Mason University, where I heard him lecture.

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About Kurt Schuler

Kurt Schuler, co-editor of The Bretton Woods Transcripts, is Senior Fellow of Financial History at the Center for Financial Stability and an economist in the Office of International Affairs at the United States Department of the Treasury.

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