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Remembering Andrew Glyn

by BOB SUTCLIFFE

Andrew Glyn, who has died from a brain tumour aged 64, was a fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, from 1969 and an economist with an international reputation. He was one of the most prolific and influential of a generation of leftwing socialist scholars in the social sciences.

He was born in Tetsworth, Oxfordshire, where he spent his early years. Although he came from a privileged background–his father was a banker–and went to Eton, Andrew was a lifelong rebel, but one whose charm, good humor, personal and intellectual generosity, along with the rigor of his economic writing, brought him respect from a much wider spectrum than those who shared his political outlook.

After studying economics at Oxford University, he worked, from 1964 to 1966, as a government economist under the first Wilson Labor government. In 1969, he was appointed to a fellowship in economics at Corpus Christi, and over the next 38 years acquired a prodigious reputation as a teacher. Many talented and progressive undergraduates and graduate students sought him out as a tutor or supervisor. What made him such an admired teacher were the clarity of his explanations, a generous allocation of time to his students and his enthusiasm. As one former student remarked: “He knew the difference between challenging a person’s mind and challenging a person’s dignity.”

His discovery of Marx’s writings in the 1960s led him towards a broader interest in classical economics, which he retained long after it went out of fashion. Some of his large bibliography of writings continued and updated the debates of the classical period.

His best known writing, however, consists of critical analyses of the recent history of capitalism and a diagnosis of the condition of the world economy. His books include British Capitalism, Workers and the Profits Squeeze (of which I was the co-author) in 1972, Capitalism Since 1945 (of which Phil Armstrong and the late John Harrison were co-authors) in 1984 and 1991, and, most recently, his analysis of the nature, malaise and injustices of today’s neoliberal world, Capitalism Unleashed (2006). Through such writings he challenged orthodox explanations and injected new rigor into economic debates on the left.

A good deal of Andrew’s written work was produced with others. He was an ideal colleague to work with–inspirational but rigorously critical–and he loved to work closely with other people; personal advancement or recognition were not important to him. His intellectual generosity was unbounded and left-wing scholars from all parts of the world turned to him for advice.

Andrew did not see academic work as an end in itself but rather as a tool to assist, however indirectly, the advance towards a more just society. He possessed a very special talent to unravel the meaning of massive quantities of economic data, finding patterns which others missed or misconstrued and directing his analysis towards refining socialist strategy. This was a feature of his voluminous work on profitability and on inequality in capitalist countries.

These skills were put to particularly useful effect during the miners’ strike of 1984-85. He backed up his instinctive solidarity with the miners by writing a series of articles and pamphlets unmasking falsehoods about the financial situation of the mines which were being purveyed by the Coal Board and the Thatcher government to justify their policy of massive pit closures. This was a signal example of academic work being used to support working-class struggle.

There was probably a two-way interaction between Andrew’s sympathy with radical social causes and his passion for jazz, of which his knowledge was encyclopedic. Over many decades he built up an extraordinary library of recordings. Shortly after the diagnosis of his illness, he told me that, if he had not been an economist, he would for choice have been a jazz pianist. Perhaps he would have been a good one. But there are hundreds of former students, colleagues, collaborators and political comrades who will be glad that he lived the life he did and left the piano playing to Bill Evans.

 

 

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