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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Remembering Geoff Harcourt, the beating heart of Australian economics

Australian economics has lost one of its most internationally renowned scholars with the passing of Geoffrey Harcourt AC at the age of 90. He was one of its most prolific people.

He wrote more than 30 books and 400 articles.

Award for Companion in the Order of Australia in 2018 cites him

Eminent service to higher education as an academic economist and author, particularly in the fields of post-Keynesian economics, capital theory and economic thought.

He was a Distinguished Fellow of the Economic Society of Australia in 1996 among many other honours.

Lewis Miller’s painting by Geoffrey Harcourt presented for the Archibald Prize, 2019.

historian of ideas

Geoff earned a first class honors degree at the University of Melbourne. There he made a life-long commitment to alleviating poverty and working against social and racial discrimination.

As he later wrote, “I became an economist because I hated injustice, unemployment and poverty”.

He then moved to Cambridge where he earned his Ph.D. He was supervised by the great economists Niki Kaldor and Ronald Henderson. He taught at the University of Adelaide for several years.

He wasn’t just an ivory tower academic. He worked with some colleagues on the very practical 1974 “Adelaide Plan”, which proposed the rejection of tax cuts for wage increases above a certain level as a means of curbing large-scale inflation.

Read more: Geoff Harcourt: why treasurers should go back to economics school

Another part of the plan was trading salary increases for personal income tax deductions. It was not adopted, but later found an echo in the Hawke government’s price-wage agreements.

He rejected the offer of Jim Cairns, who had been treasurer for some time in the Whitlam government, to be appointed governor of the Reserve Bank.

Remembering Geoff Harcourt, The Beating Heart Of Australian Economics
Geoff Harcourt with students in the 1970s.

When Whitlam is sacked, Geoff’s son (economist Tim Harcourt) remembers his father speaking at a protest rally, as he had done at anti-Vietnam War rallies a few years earlier.

In 1979, during the tenure of the Fraser Coalition government, he drafted an economic policy program for a future Labor government. He later joked that Hawke followed it up “for at least half an hour”.

a cambridge man

Always being Australian, he was also very much a Cambridge person. He went there to deliver lectures in 1964–1966, 1972–1973 and 1980. They moved there on a more permanent basis from 1982 to 1998.

He was the President of Jesus College for most of the period from 1988 to 1992. He was on the University Council for eight years.

Read more: Geoff Harcourt: climate challenge demands a rethink on economics

Some of his most famous works revolved around Cambridge. He wrote on the “Cambridge Controversies”. It refers to an argument about the nature of capital between economists from the University of Cambridge and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He co-authored the definitive intellectual biography of renowned Cambridge economist Joan Robinson. (Geoff, like many others, thought she should have been the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics.)


Geoff described himself as an “all-rounder” with a range of research interests. He is perhaps best remembered for his work in what is now known as “post-Keynesian economics”.

Remembering Geoff Harcourt, The Beating Heart Of Australian Economics
Geoff Harcourt and family.

Both the authors of this hasty obituary remember Geoff fondly.

Harry Bloch, incoming co-editor of the History of Economics Review, remembered Geoff as “the beating heart of the history of economic thought in Australia”.

The review will pay tribute to Geoff in due course.

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

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