Hayek 1931
J. S. Mill
Dulles, E.
Thünen, Johann Heinrich von
Antonio de Viti de Marco
Mark Blaug

Honorary member's speeches

After dinner speech at the 2000 ESHET Conference in Graz by Ian Steedman

My Lords, Ladies, Gentlemen - and Fellow Economists:

As in Marseille, Bologna and Valencia, we have been treated here in Graz to a veritable feast of learning, erudition and scholarship. And we may well feel moved to endorse the old toast: ‘Here’s to pure scholarship. May it never be of any use to anyone!’

Nevertheless, in these hard times of cost-effectiveness, research assessment, etc., etc., we might feel somewhat uneasy at proclaiming such a toast in the hearing of other economists, not to mention Ministries of Education and other funding bodies. As did Donald Winch in his plenary address yesterday morning, we might feel obliged to ask the QUESTION, ‘What is the use of intellectual history and of HET in particular?’

Here is the ANSWER. Mainstream economics knows only one fundamental, rockbottom meaning of “usefulness”. Namely, the rendering of utility, of well-being. Consider an ostensibly useful article in economics, such as one proposing a new tax on soft drinks cans, intended to be environmentally beneficial. The probability that this proposal will come to the notice of politicians/civil servants is very small.
If it does nevertheless catch their attention, the probability that it will affect actual legislation - as intended - is very small. And if it does, against all odds, affect the law in the way the economist had in mind, the probability that the law will truly increase anyone’s happiness is very small.
Now, one need hardly remind such an illustrious assembly as this, that the product of three very small independent probabilities is vanishingly small. The real usefulness of the brilliantly original policy article, published in a famous journal, is thus ZERO. By contrast, our work in intellectual history gives enormous pleasure, with probability of 0,999……, to us and to all our other readers!
Hence, as will be rigorously demonstrated in a forthcoming theoretical and econometric article, to be published in a leading journal, the HET is the MOST USEFUL branch of economics that there is!!
I conclude, indefeasibly, that whether it be defended as proudly useless scholarship, or as the most certainly and securely utility-generating strand of economics, the HET is a VERY GOOD THING.

Of course, we must recognize that not everyone welcomes all scholarship. The famous impressario Howard Hughes, when making a great historical epic in Hollywood, was approached by a young boffin and told that some of the film’s history was very shaky - should the boffin do some relevant research? H. H. glowered at him and pronounced - ‘Never check an interesting fact!’
But of course no such thought would ever cross OUR minds.

What of the future? Albert Einstein famously said, ‘I never think of the future - it comes soon enough’. But our next conference in Darmstadt will come before too long and we can look forward to it, as a worthy successor to Marseille, Bologna, Valencia and Graz. For now, I ask you to join in drinking with praise and gratitude, to Heinz Kurz and his colleagues - Stephan Böhm, Christian Gehrke and Richard Sturn. - here in Graz for their splendid work on our behalf:
‘Thank you’