Keynes, Nevile
Clark, J.M.

Honorary member's speeches

After Dinner Speech at the 2008 ESHET conference in Prague by Yuichi Shionoya

Former President Kurz, new President Marcuzzo, distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen:
I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to be here. It is a distinct honor to be named an Honorary Member of the ESHET and to be invited to tonight’s conference dinner. First, the Honorary Members of the Society nominated during the past ten years are such a galaxy of distinguished scholars that my work pales by comparison. Second, the nomination was unexpected because I have never attended a single meeting of the society. Third, the history of economic thought is predominantly European, and this honor is conferred in its homeland.
I am afraid, however, that the unexpected honor and pleasure are not without cost, because I have to make the notorious “after-dinner speech.” To maximize utility or minimize disutility for my audience, I must consider the ideal after-dinner speech.
There are three requirements for the after-dinner speech. First, the topic must not be serious, academic, or controversial, because serious topics were discussed in conference sessions and they are not appropriately heard on a full stomach. Second, the topic must be relevant to time and space, to when and where the speech is delivered. In other words, the topic must be contextually relevant; more specifically, my talk must be relevant to the 2008 conference of the ESHET held here in Prague. Third, --- this is most important --- the topic must be presented in a smart and impressive way. This requirement depends largely on the style of the speech, and cannot be satisfied by a non-native English speaker. Of course, this is an impossible task for me. Therefore, I will try to fulfill only the first and second conditions of the ideal after-dinner speech with apologies to our Anglophone members.
The theme of this conference is “Development and Transition in the History of Economic Thought,” one major aspect of which is the transition of economic systems in Central and Eastern Europe. Our conference venue is the Czech Republic. My first visit to this country was in the time of the Socialist Republic of Czechoslovakia. It was in 1989, just before the fall of the socialist regime, and my purpose was to do research on the family history of the economist Joseph Schumpeter.
At the time there was not much biographical research on Schumpeter, especially on his life before he moved to the United States. It was known only that he was born at Triesch (the German name) a small town in Moravia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After the First World War, the Empire disintegrated and the town belonged to Czechoslovakia; after the Second World War, the country was blocked by the Iron Curtain. It was possible to find Triesch on the map before the Second World War, but after the war all German names were erased from maps of Czechoslovakia. By superimposing a post-war map over a pre-war map, I managed to locate the town, which is now called “Trℯšť”(pronouncing “Tzesht”). It is spelled T-R-E-S-T, and if pronounced literally, it means punishment or penalty in Czech.
In the summer of 1989, I decided to visit this town, but the formalities of getting a visa were too much of a nuisance. The Government Travel Office of Czechoslovakia, the national agency for foreign visitors to cities and towns across the country, informed me that there was no hotel in Trest. I wrote a letter to the mayor of Trest, requesting help in researching Schumpeter’s family register and in getting a reservation at a hotel in Trest. After several months, I received a welcoming reply from the mayor.
When I arrived in this beautiful city of Prague, I found that the Government Travel Office had not assigned me to a hotel in the city but on the outskirts of Prague. Moreover, the shower in the hotel room had no water. Trest, with a population of 7,000, is located 75 miles southeast of Prague. I took a taxi from Prague to Trest. The rickety old car, a “Skoda,” was made in Czechoslovakia. During the two hour journey the car jolted along as if it were about to fall to pieces. Trest, as I saw it for the first time, was a dirty and poor village covered with dust. The only hotel in town was the most miserable one I had ever seen. I could not stand the unpleasant smell of cigarettes and toilets. My diary from 20 years ago reminds me of my anxiety in this early stage of the trip.
For three days I had several meetings with the mayor, town officers, and local historians, with the help of an interpreter. I was relieved to find people very kind and cooperative. However, I soon realized that the economist Schumpeter was known there as a puppet of capitalists, hence I was an unwelcome visitor. The mayor, with the title of Chairman of the Town National Committee in Trest, seemed to have a little knowledge of Schumpeter and told me contentedly that nevertheless Schumpeter foresaw the fall of capitalism and the move to socialism. The mayor was a good guy; he proudly showed me the key to a toilet in his office that was for his exclusive use.
To my surprise, the family genealogy of the Schumpeters had already been researched in detail based on family registers and other historical documents in the town and district archives. The survey was undertaken not out of an interest in our economist Schumpeter but in the ancestral manufacturing Schumpeters. The town of Trest has a 600-year history, and the Schumpeter family lived continuously in Trest for 400 years, always holding important positions such as manufacturers, merchants, and mayors. Schumpeter’s father was an owner of a textile factory. The history of Trest could not be written without including the Schumpeter family.
I tried to identify the house where Schumpeter was born. When I visited the town, the house had not been identified. The town registers recorded the house numbers where inhabitants were born and died for more than two hundred years. According to the record, Schumpeter was born at house No. 52 and his father died at house No. 462. The town officers said that there had been several different numberings of the houses and that they were mixed up, so that the Schumpeter house remained unidentified. It was reasonable that no effort was made for the capitalist puppet Schumpeter who had, after all, abandoned his hometown. Based on several sources, we were convinced that No. 52 and No. 462 were, in fact, the same house, which was located on Roosevelt Street and was now a deserted grocery store. Through my discussions with town officials, I contributed to the discovery of the Schumpeter house. I suggested to the mayor that the house be renovated as the Schumpeter Memorial House. He gave only the vague response that since Schumpeter was an admirer of capitalism, the government would not approve the plan.
After my return to Japan, I wrote a paper on the Schumpeter family in Trest, based on the materials I had gathered, including photographs of the Schumpeter house. The paper was soon translated into Czech by the effort of Prof. Sojka, our conference organizer, and published in a 1990 issue of Politicka Ekonomie. Prof. Sojka and myself are very pleased to make a reunion at this conference.
Some months later after I left this country, Eastern Europe dramatically changed political and economic regimes. Czechoslovakia moved toward democracy and a market economy. Schumpeter became an honorary citizen of Trest and a symbol of the market economy. The mayor of Trest was dismissed and forced to return the key to his private toilet. The Town Council of Trest bought the Schumpeter house and decided to renovate it as the Schumpeter Memorial House. The Czech Economic Society, the Czech Ministry of Culture, and the European Union also took part in this effort. In December 2003, an inaugural ceremony for the House took place in the presence of a number of distinguished guests, including the president of the Czech Republic.
Last year, I again visited Trest to participate in a symposium on Schumpeter, and I was amazed by the “development and transition” of the town. I saw the renovated Schumpeter House with deep emotion. Trest is now born again as a conference venue open to the world not only for research on Schumpeterian innovation and development but also for research on the history of economic thought, his major academic concern. A comfortable hotel has opened by the renovated medieval castle; the hotel I stayed in 20 years ago has closed.
I am delighted to speak about Schumpeter’s hometown in the Czech Republic in light of the “development and transition” which I personally witnessed. Finally, I would like to stress that despite the systemic inefficiency and political brutality which has unfortunately prevailed in this country at times, people have always been kind, virtuous, and reliable. In other words, underneath the discontinuities due to frequent, radical, economic and political changes, I notice the continuities in the conscience and goodwill of the people in this country. I believe all participants in this conference will share this view after enjoying the hearty welcome and kind hospitality of our Czech colleagues. Taking the opportunity of speaking in the last minutes of this meeting, I extend, on behalf of all present, our gratitude and admiration to our local organizers for this successful conference.
Thank you for your kind attention.