European Society for the History of Economic Thought

Dinner speech at the 2015 ESHET Conference in Rome by Heinz Kurz

16 May 2015

Dinner speech at the 2015 ESHET Conference in Rome by Heinz Kurz


(The written text differs slightly from the speech given.)


When Cristina Marcuzzo and Annalisa Rosselli invited me a few minutes ago to say a few words after this wonderful dinner in this even more wonderful Palazzo Brancaccio, I was reminded of the famous Italian edict that there are some offers you cannot possibly refuse. So I swiftly accepted.

There are four letters anyone who comes to Rome will encounter time and again: SPQR. As you probably know, this acronym stands for “Senatus PopulusQue Romanus” – The Senate and People of Rome. However, there is another meaning given to it: “Sono pazzi questi romani” – They are crazy these Romans. This is a bold accusation, but is it true?

I am afraid it is. How could it otherwise be explained that on the occasion of this year’s ESHET conference our Roman friends have invited hundreds of barbarians to inundate Rome – barbarians from France, barbarians from Spain and Portugal, barbarians from close and far, from Russia, Japan and China, not to mention those from Germany, the Goths, and, perhaps even more worrying, someone like me, a Bavarian barbarian? Our Roman friends even helped numerous barbarians to be admitted into the city of cities, despite their limited ability to remember things such as their ESHET passwords etc. Special mention ought to be made in this regard of Marcello di Biagio, whose kind and effective computer skills opened the floodgates for the barbarians. Thanks go once again to Antonella Palumbo and Laura Nitti and their numerous helpers for all they have done for us to render our stay most pleasant and intellectually rewarding. Annalisa and Cristina worked untiringly together with the President of the society, the local organising and the scientific committees to make this conference such a big success. Thanks very much!

Next year we will meet in another wonderful city, Paris. The question is close at hand: Will the organisers of the 2016 Paris ESHET conference be able to meet the high standards set in Rome? Can they even top them? As members of ESHET we are a highly spoilt species that cannot easily be satisfied. What kind of treatment can we expect? What will be the quality of the selected papers? What kind of food and wine will tickle our palate? Will the cultural programme excite us? I am optimistic that our Parisian friends will try hard and perform well, and I have, of course, no intention whatsoever to interfere with their business. But I wonder whether they might perhaps consider seriously the following suggestion, given the fact that ESHET members are people with a pronounced sense of history. The conference, we were told, will take place at the Sorbonne, which is close to the Panthéon. It occurred to me that the Paris meeting could leave an eternal trace in the history of mankind if the busts of all participants were to be solemnly placed in the Pantheon. This would not only greatly contribute to the well-deserved reputation of our subject and of ourselves – it can also be expected to dramatically increase the membership of our society. On the way from my table to the microphone I carried out a rough econometric estimation in which need for achievement, desire to be eternally remembered and a few other variables were taken into account to estimate the impact of such a Paris conference on ESHET membership. You will be pleased to hear that not only would we easily satisfy the magic number of 500 mentioned in the General Assembly, but, according to my prudent calculation, we would reach more than 84.000 members. In the light of this prediction and the power of econometrics, our Paris friends would be wise to heed my advice. There is, however, a problem to which they must give due consideration. The run on ESHET which we can rationally expect forces us to sort the wheat from the chaff – the respectable historian of economic thought from the swindler, who merely wishes to benefit from our institution by pretending to be a part of it. I fear that amongst the latter we will find many of our colleagues in departments of economics, who used to look down on us. I advise careful examination of these applications and to decide on whether to admit them into our ranks with a decent amount of generosity enhanced by an expectation that their exposure to our way will make them renounce the wrong views and doings of their past.

Let me conclude by thanking the singers and musicians that entertained us so well tonight. Special thanks go to Aya Kuroki, the daughter of Mrs and Mr Kuroki, a member of ESHET, who impressed us deeply with a solo violin concert of Johann Sebastian Bach’s chaconne. Is it thinkable that some of the barbarians that swamped Rome during the past few days are perhaps not so barbarous after all?

Thank you for your attention!

Heinz Kurz
President of ESHET 2006-2008