Monday, May 17, 2010

London Times Obituary: "Professor Wynne Godley: economist"

One of the heavyweights.
From The Times:

As Professor of Applied Economics at Cambridge, a civil servant in the Treasury and later as one of the Treasury’s panel of “six wise men”, Wynne Godley was the most insightful macroeconomic forecaster of his generation. He made major, though as yet not fully recognised, contributions to macroeconomic theory.

The Honourable Wynne Alexander Hugh Godley, younger son of the second Baron Kilbracken, was born in London in 1926. His parents soon separated acrimoniously, his mother was frequently away, and he spent his first ten years with nannies in Ashdown Forest (where he recalled seeing Christopher Robin Milne bowled out in a local cricket match) and at what he called the “chamber of horrors” of prep schools. In 1936 his remarried father re-occupied the family estate in rural Ireland, just south of the border, and Godley had many happy holidays there, although he was struck by the poverty as well as the beauty of the place.

His education continued at Rugby, where he became an accomplished oboist, and at New College, Oxford, where he was tutored and much influenced by Isaiah Berlin and by the economist P. W. S. Andrews, graduating in 1947. He then studied for three years at the Conservatoire de Musique, Paris, and returned to England as a professional musician, becoming principal oboe of the BBC Welsh Orchestra in 1951. But his talent and ambition were overwhelmed by his intense nervousness about performing in public and, falling back on his First in PPE, in 1954 he joined the Metal Box Company as an economist.

Godley remained deeply involved with music, however, and from 1976 to 1987 was a director of the Royal Opera House. His musical nature also permanently affected his driving, for as he travelled along (very slowly, to be fair) he would sometimes sing and tap out the beat on the pedals, which resulted in alarmingly jerky progress.

He flourished in his new line of work, and in 1956 joined the economic section of the Treasury. He worked mainly with macroeconomic data, and from 1962-64 was seconded to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, where he developed a lifelong scepticism of time-series econometrics. He was promoted rapidly and by the mid-1960s was in charge of the Treasury’s short-term forecasting, becoming Deputy Director of the Economic Section in 1967, and making the calculations that set the size of the devaluation of sterling in that year.

Crucially, he also met Nicholas Kaldor, then an adviser to the Labour government, and worked with him on the Selective Employment Tax. Kaldor recognised Godley’s exceptional ability and persuaded him in 1970 to come to Cambridge as Director of the Department of Applied Economics (DAE) and as a Fellow of King’s College....Continue