Saturday, October 28, 2023

Alan Bollard's "Economists in the Cold War"

Alan Bollard is a Professor of Economics at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. He formerly managed APEC, the largest regional economic integration organization in the world, and was previously the New Zealand Reserve Bank Governor, Secretary of the New Zealand Treasury, and Chairman of the New Zealand Commerce Commission. He is the author of Economists at War (2019) and A Few Hares to Chase: The Life and Economics of Bill Philips (2016).

Bollard applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Economists in the Cold War: How a Handful of Economists Fought the Battle of Ideas, and reported the following:
Open the book at page 99 and plunge straight into the world of the Cold War, where US Senator Joseph McCarthy is hunting down alleged Communist sympathisers, where the CIA is calculating the capability of economies behind the Iron Curtain, where the FBI is tracking ‘ultra-liberal reformist economists in the corridors of power. Think Washington is in bad shape today? The early 1950s were a very rough time in Washington. But it was worse in Moscow, where economists were cowed into subservience by Stalin’s threats of the gulag or worse.

Economists in the Cold War is an account of seven international economists and their opponents on the other side of the ideological curtain. From the 1945 Potsdam Conference in Germany to the 1973 Pinochet coup in Chile there was a fight between central planning and markets, between Marxism and Capitalism. It was a challenging time for economists – rebuilding after wartime destruction, working on de-colonisation, helping new civilian economies, and dealing with the implications of nuclear capability.

On page 99 we hear about genius Hungarian-American mathematician John von Neumann and his ‘game theory’ that lead to the ‘mutually-assured destruction’ MAD strategies of the nuclear powers. Jump to page 199 and there is brilliant Cambridge Professor Joan Robinson who shone an unrealistically bright light on the Communists in the Soviet Union and China. And on page 299 is the story of clever but divisive Argentinian economist Raul Prebisch and why the Americans hated his ideas for the Third World.

All part of the handful of economists fighting the Cold War battle of ideas.
Learn more about Economists in the Cold War at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue