The Conservative government under Harold Macmillan had been reelected in October 1959 with an increased majority: a result Lionel Robbins had not expected, even though, as he commented to Caroline on 11 October, it was ‘a striking vindication of the maxim that you don't shoot Santa Claus’. On 5 December he told her he had been unexpectedly summoned to see R.A. Butler, Home Secretary since 1955, and was even more surprised to be invited ‘to be head of a committee, which for technical reasons is not to be a Royal Commission but which in most respects will resemble one, which is to investigate the future of University Education & research in this country. This is a very big job – two years at least – and at first my instinct was to refuse.’ As he wrote (1971a, 273), he told Butler, ‘as politely as I could’, that he would prefer to devote time to his new position at the FT and to writing his book on the principles of economics. Butler urged him to talk to Tom Padmore, now Sir Thomas Padmore and second secretary of the Treasury. Padmore knew Lionel well: when they lunched together he deployed an argument Lionel could not counter: ‘he just asked me why I did not want to do this thing. I explained that…the next few years were probably my last opportunity of writing a book which I had been wanting to write most of my academic life. At this, with friendly directness, he asked if I thought that anything I had in mind to write was likely to be as important as trying to sort out the contemporary problems of the system of higher education in this country.…I could not honestly deny it.’ So, within forty-eight hours of Butler’s invitation, Lionel had accepted it (Butler to LCR, 1 December 1960, Career, RP), telling his sister he expected the task would mean ‘at least 1 day per week taking evidence, visiting the U.S. & the continent & eventually writing the main part of the report, so I shall clearly have my plate full for some time to come. But at least I shan't be bored.’
The immediate postwar period was a time of hope and of disillusionment for Lionel Robbins as for many others in Britain. In the heady atmosphere of postwar optimism hopes of reform and reconstruction flourished. The Lloyd George coalition reelected in December 1918 promised a land fit for heroes to live in, reflecting the aspirations of the few remaining Liberals in the Conservative-dominated government. Many of the measures planned in the wartime Ministry of Reconstruction were begun in 1919. But after the breathing space of the demobilization period and a shortlived frenetic postwar boom in 1919–20 there came a severe and prolonged slump. UK unemployment, which is estimated to have fallen as low as 2–3 per cent by the spring of 1920, was over 20 per cent a year later. As officially measured, it did not fall below 1 million or 10 per cent of those insured under the national insurance scheme, which commenced in 1920, for the rest of the decade. Social reform gave way to public expenditure cuts and to the restoration of the gold standard at the prewar parity. Guild socialism withered as dreams of revolution or at least radical change faded.
In the ‘breathing space’, which lasted for about six months, the exodus of people from the armed forces (and from munitions factories) was greater than the absorption of workers into peacetime employment. The government tried to slow down demobilization, by giving priority to men with definite offers of employment, skilled workers in certain key trades, and men on leave producing written offers of employment. This looked particularly unfair to those who had served longest, to older men and to married men, seeing newer recruits and younger or unmarried men released before them, and had to be abandoned early in 1919. Out of a total of 3.7m other ranks demobilized between 11 November 1918 and 20 February 1920, 1.8m were released in January–March 1919; the peak periods for officers released were February and April 1919 (Pigou 1947, 22–7 and 216). On release servicemen received twenty-eight days’ paid leave and a war gratuity. Once the boom began, however, the demand for labour increased rapidly and by the end of the year there was something like full employment along with rapidly rising prices and wages.
By the autumn of 1942 the ‘conversations’ called for in Article VII of the Mutual Aid Agreement had still not taken place. Several more months elapsed before they began in an informal way. In those months – the period of this chapter – much of Lionel’s work revolved around postwar planning: monetary policy, commodity policy, commercial policy, reparations and domestic employment policy. Progress was uneven.
On the international issues the UK government had invited the Dominions and India to official talks in London, which opened at the Treasury on Friday 23 October, the day General Sir Bernard Montgomery began the battle of El Alamein. Sir Richard Hopkins chairing the first meeting explained that they were an opportunity for the other governments’ representatives to consider the current British proposals for postwar international economic reconstruction (PET(42) 1st meeting, DO35/1014/7, TNA). These included Keynes’s plans for an International Clearing Union – which had been disclosed informally to the US Administration by the UK Treasury representative in Washington, Sir Frederick Phillips – and for International Regulation of Primary Products. Phillips chaired most of the meetings in London. According to Hume Wrong of the Canadian delegation, ‘The chief figures in these talks are Keynes (the main promoter of ideas and debate), Prof. Robertson of the Treasury, Prof. Robbins of the War Cabinet Secretariat, [Roland] Wilson of Australia, Sir Ramaswami Mudaliar and Sir Theodore Gregory for India, [Richard] Campbell for New Zealand’ and his own colleagues Louis Rasminsky and W.A. Mackintosh (Wrong diary, 26 October 1942, MG30/E101/4/23, LAC). After Keynes outlined his Clearing Union plan the delegates spent three meetings going through the plan paragraph by paragraph. They did the same with the commodity plan. Lionel made occasional contributions to the former discussion; he had more to say in the latter, answering many queries from the Dominions delegates, who had only just received a written version of the plan. He supported Keynes on several points, for instance over the management and financing of the buffer stocks; he also made drafting suggestions, especially to enable the plan to accommodate the differing needs of wealthier and poorer countries (PET(42) 2nd-8th meetings, 26–30 October and 2–3 November 1942, DO35/1014/7). After the talks Keynes revised both the Clearing Union and the commodity proposals, the latter drastically.
Lord Robbins retired from LSE three times: first, when he reluctantly gave up his chair in 1961; secondly when he reached the age at which he would otherwise have retired and his parttime appointment came to an end in 1966; and finally when he gave up the chairmanship of the governors in December 1973. But as far as he was concerned his retirement began when his ten-year term of office as chairman of the Financial Times finished at the end of December 1970. Then, as he had told his sister three months earlier, ‘I shall have to think out new ways of living.’
Robbins said his farewells to the staff at Bracken House on 31 December 1970, and on 4 January 1971 Garrett Drogheda (who succeeded him as chairman) gave a dinner for him and Iris with the board and a few senior staff: ‘All very agreable & friendly.…I couldn't have fallen among nicer people and the whole episode has meant a widening of experience and contacts which I could never have hoped for in any academic life…I shall miss all this a good deal.’ But he had plenty to keep himself occupied: the House of Lords, which he began to attend most days it was in session, the Royal Opera House, on whose board he remained until 1980, the National Gallery, his own writing and, most immediately, from the day after the FT dinner, the organization of the Library Appeal. He suspected, correctly, that for the next two and a half years he would be ‘quite as fully stretched as ever I have been by FT business & only a little less than I was with the report on higher education’.
Lionel Robbins’s first seven-year term as a trustee of the National Gallery ended in July 1959. On relinquishing the chair he told his sister on 12 July that it was ‘in a way the end of an epoch for me – not the most important but perhaps the most rewarding & happiest office of my life.’ It had brought new friendships, notably with Philip Hendy and the sculptor Henry Moore. Hendy recalled (1968a, 658) that Robbins ‘had a rather unique relationship with the Civil Service and with governments throughout. It is due more to him than anyone else that the National Gallery Grant was enlarged. I don't think there’s anything better than a good board of trustees and a reasonably good director…working together. But this hasn't very often happened.’ This chapter discusses Robbins’s initiatives as chairman of the trustees of the National Gallery in 1954–9, and his service as a trustee of the Tate Gallery, before returning to his activities at LSE in the same period. In these years he continued to be asked to serve on government committees and was drawn once more into economic policymaking in 1957. The Torrens project came to fruition in 1956–8.
The ‘Tate Affair’, which cut short the Robbinses’ visit to the United States in 1954, began before Lionel joined the Tate board in October 1953. It had also started before Dennis Proctor, Lionel’s friend from Whitehall days, who had left the Treasury in 1950, succeeded Lord Jowitt as chairman of the Tate trustees in the summer of 1953. It was unfortunate Proctor had not become chairman earlier: Jowitt attempted a patched-up peace between the director John Rothenstein and LeRoux Smith LeRoux, one of the two deputy keepers and manager of the Publications Department, allowing continuation of his probationary appointment after his conduct had been severely criticized by a Treasury-commissioned report. Lionel later told Proctor that he had been warned by Eddie Playfair in the Treasury that ‘there was a man there [the Tate] – not named – who could be relied upon to create a major explosion within a few months’ (8 July 1968, Personal Correspondence 1966–70 M-R, RP). He came to believe (1971a, 263) that the man in question was ‘one of the most evil men I have ever encountered’. LeRoux, a South African, had been director of the Pretoria Art Centre when Rothenstein met him in 1948; after the election of the Nationalists Rothenstein’s recommendation had obtained LeRoux a temporary deputy keepership at the Tate; LeRoux represented himself ‘as a person of integrity who had fought apartheid and had lost his job because of his liberal stand’. But he was soon using his administrative skills, and his charm, to take over Rothenstein’s office and to spread rumours of Rothenstein’s incompetence – a claim he made to the trustees in October and November 1952 (when Proctor was abroad) leading to the Treasury’s enquiry into the ‘staff troubles’. Jowitt then offered LeRoux, Rothenstein’s ‘Iago’, a further probationary period of one year (Rothenstein 1966, 232–81; Spalding 1998, 105–11).
With the war economy essentially organized in the summer of 1941 several members of the Economic Section moved on. Cairncross was the first to leave, transferring to the Board of Trade in June and following Jewkes to the Ministry of Aircraft Production later in the year. Churchill had set up the Ministry of Aircraft Production in May 1940 under his friend the Canadian newspaper owner Lord Beaverbrook. When Beaverbrook left a year later the Permanent Secretary asked Jewkes and Chester to prepare a report on the planning of aircraft production – with the result that Jewkes was asked to set up a planning department in that ministry. When he moved in September Lionel took over his duties as head of the Section (Cairncross 1998, 86).
On 2 November Lionel told his sister Caroline that his new job was ‘enthrallingly interesting’: ‘It isn't exactly new but it’s more responsible. The man who was head of our section has moved on for the time being & while he is away I am looking after the show. This means almost daily contact with the formation of high policy in the sphere in which we are working & although the work is hard & the hours long, it is all so absorbing that I could hardly wish for a more satisfying position.…Of course in many ways it is narrowing.…I live move & have my being in this atmosphere of war administration, obsessed like a young man in love.’
The LSE Michaelmas term 1939 began late and in Cambridge. The School was lucky to be there. It had protested against a University plan to evacuate it to Glasgow and Aberdeen; it preferred Reading, but Reading could not provide sufficient accommodation. Carr-Saunders began to negotiate with Oxford, but in mid-July the question of a wartime location was still not settled (Standing Committee 23 March, 25 May, 15 June and 13 July 1939). On a visit to Cambridge he ran into Austin Robinson, who introduced him to the University Treasurer over lunch at Sidney Sussex (Robinson’s college), and ‘the three of them settled on a college that had not yet been commandeered by a [government] ministry preparing for evacuation’ (Cairncross 1993, 78). On 25 July the Governing Body of Peterhouse agreed to take in LSE if war broke out; Carr-Saunders immediately accepted. Administration and part of the library were housed in New Court, a building (now known as The Hostel) opposite the main gate of Peterhouse. The School rented Grove Lodge, also in Trumpington Street, next to the Fitzwilliam Museum (and now the Fitzwilliam director’s house), for student common rooms and a lending library. Some classes were held there but most lectures were given in the Cambridge lecture rooms. In 1939/40 evening classes and public lectures were still given in London, at Canterbury Hall in Cartwright Gardens, the School buildings being occupied by the Ministry of Economic Warfare (Dahrendorf 1995, 341–4).
There were 620 LSE students in Cambridge in 1939/40 and another 350 evening students in London, compared with a prewar total of around 3000. The academic staff was immediately depleted as several members went into government service, including Allen and Robertson to the Treasury, Benham to the Ministry of Economic Warfare – but he resigned a few weeks later and returned to LSE because of ill health – and Webster to the Foreign Research and Press Service. The governors rescinded leaves already granted, including a sabbatical leave for Durbin and leave of absence for Hayek to lecture in America (Standing Committee 28 September and 24 November 1939). The LSE teaching staff in economics in 1939/40 thus comprised Benham, Coase, Durbin, Edwards, Hayek, Kaldor, Paish, Plant, Robbins, Schwartz and Thomas. A year later most of these were also in government service.
To a later generation the events of the summer of 1914 that led to the Great War read as a chapter of bizarre and sinister accidents. On 28 June, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo by a student revolutionary agitating for the separation of Bosnia-Herzegovina from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and union with its eastern neighbour Serbia. After obtaining a guarantee of support from Germany in case Russia actively supported the Serbs, Austria first threatened Serbia, as it had often done before, and then declared war on it on 28 July when the Serbian government had refused to allow Austro-Hungarian troops to enter Serbia in search of conspirators. Serbia had already mobilized its forces; in support of Serbia, Russia ordered general mobilization on 30 July. Germany responded by declaring war on Russia on 1 August, and on Russia’s ally France two days later. Belgium refused a German demand to allow its forces to cross Belgium to get to France; Germany invaded Belgium; and Britain, who had guaranteed Belgian neutrality, declared war on Germany on 4 August. No wonder the outbreak of war ‘came like a bolt from the blue to all [the Robbins] family circle’ (Robbins 1971a, 33).
In August 1914 Lionel Robbins was a fifteen-year-old schoolboy. He was expecting to stay at school for two more years before going to university. As he recalled (ibid., 29 and 35), his only ambition in life was to be ‘an effective poet’ – his father naturally had other ideas – and his early reaction to the war was poetic: ‘I wrote a poetic drama, in the mode of Shelley’s Hellas, entitled Peace Exiled.…I remember getting up very early in the morning to get naturalistic detail for a chorus about sunrise which was to mark the turning-point of the allegoric entity who was the central figure of the action.…’ The earliest surviving poem in his papers is ‘Sunrise, Hymn to Dawn, August 1914’.
To his too coy colleagues
Had we but world enough, and time,
This slowness, gentles, were no crime.
We might consume each livelong day
Discussing how can debtors pay.
John Maynard should delight our wits
Describing how each project fits.
James Meade should still expound the laws
of economics, clause by clause
Stout Melville might his land defend
Demanding what the world shall lend.
Mackintosh’ speech would slowly burn
Into our hearts his great concern
For all that helps to foster trade.
McCarthy'd call a spade a spade.
From Clauson and Sir David Meek
We'd cynically learn to speak
In praise of regulation schemes,
Which Dennis Robertson just deems
The deuce. Such talks could last no doubt
For two years more or thereabout.
But at my back I always hear
Joe Stalin’s cohorts thundering near.
We can't expect the war to last
Till all our problems are o'er past.
The other nations may complain
That we had racked our brains in vain.
We do not wish to leave to Joe
Decisions on the way we go.
By the end of 1943 the Allies had determined on an invasion of France (Operation Overlord) in the spring of 1944. Although its exact time and place could not be known, it could be roughly predicted given the need for suitable weather and tides. Assuming it was successful, the war in Europe could end in 1944. In January Allied efforts in Italy, which had been making slow progress since the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, intensified with the landing of British and American forces at Anzio. In Russia the siege of Leningrad was lifted on 25 January. But the Luftwaffe returned to bomb London nightly; and even before the ‘little Blitz’ there was the threat of new weapons that Hitler was planning to launch on London: Lionel discouraged his children from visiting London during the Christmas holidays without telling them the reason (Sansom 1947, 176–83; LCR to IER, 9 July 1944).
Events in 1959 were to determine the pattern of Lionel Robbins’s life for the next decade. One event was his elevation to the peerage; another was his joining the board of directors of the Financial Times newspaper. He and Iris bought a small house at Lyme Regis in Dorset, where they spent their free weekends and vacations, often with their children and an increasing number of grandchildren. To his commitments were added in 1960 the chairmanship of the Academic Planning Board for a new university at York, another term as a trustee of the National Gallery and, towards the end of the year, invitations to serve as a government appointee on the board of the partly government-owned British Petroleum Company and to chair a major enquiry into the present and future of higher education in Great Britain. At LSE, although the School remained his ‘main preoccupation’ and he found ‘the work here in the last few years especially rewarding…[because of] the excellence of the younger people’ (LCR to Röpke, 15 April 1959, Economists Correspondence May 1958-December 1959, RP), his dominance of the Economics Department had been challenged by the ‘younger people’ from the mid-1950s. The events of 1959 led to the loss of his chair of economics in 1961. Before that happened, however, the vexing problem of the reform of the BSc(Econ) was resolved in the winter of 1959/60.
When Robbins accepted the offer of a life peerage he wanted to become simply ‘Lord Robbins’ and to be known in academic circles as Professor Lord Robbins or just Robbins like Keynes. He received many congratulations (Peerage Congratulatory Letters, RP): from friends in the arts world who thought it was a great day for the arts in Britain, from fellow economists who were pleased to have one of their number in the upper house, from LSE colleagues and former students who were proud for the School as well as from other friends. Former colleagues in wartime Whitehall who knew he had refused a knighthood in 1943 were delighted an acceptable honour had been found: ‘Some of us,’ wrote Dennis Proctor on 24 January, ‘have conferred together about it in private, but I at least had not hit on this brilliant solution.’ Several wondered what name he would take. Arthur Salter warned him on 26 January not to ‘let anyone persuade to take any name but your own. They tried it on with me but I was determined not to inflict on those who had known me as Salter the job of finding [me] under the mask of Lord Abcadabra or something.’
For those of us who were at LSE at the time, what quickly became known as ‘the troubles’ began in the Michaelmas term 1966 following the appointment of Walter Adams as the next director of the School. At a time when the white minority government of Rhodesia was defying the British government and world opinion, the appointment of the first Principal of the multiracial University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in Salisbury (now Harare) was instantly controversial. Robbins was not involved in his appointment, but with strong feelings of loyalty towards Adams because of his work for Jewish refugees in the 1930s, he could not but defend him when his appointment was criticized in the first round of troubles at LSE in 1966/7. This year was the first after Robbins’s retirement from the academic staff, when he was only a parttime lecturer and largely an observer of developments at the School. He was intimately involved, however, in the second, more serious round of the troubles, which began a year after Adams’s arrival just when Robbins succeeded Bridges as Chairman of the Court of Governors.
Sydney Caine had agreed to continue as director until he was sixty-five in 1967. When the selection committee for his successor asked for the views of the academic staff, Lionel responded to Michael Wise (a member of the committee) on 26 November 1965 (Adams, RP) that he wanted to put on record that he thought the ‘fundamental desiderata’ for a new director were ‘capacity for leadership, real administrative ability and good standing with the world of affairs’. He thought the committee would have difficulty finding a distinguished scholar who also had these characteristics. He made his opinions known when names were mentioned in the Senior Common Room, objecting particularly to Aubrey Jones: Lionel was ‘disgusted’ when Jones, who had specialized in economics (see Chapter 7), described himself in his memoirs as a pupil of Laski rather than of Hayek and Robbins ‘which…would have put an entirely different complexion on his up-bringing at the university’ (LCR to Wise and Roberts, 5 January 1966, Adams, RP).
New College Oxford was founded in 1379 by William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, who also founded the most academic of English public schools, Winchester College, in 1382. ‘They were founded, as the statutes of New College say, to counter “the fewness of clergy, arising from pestilence, wars and other miseries”, and so their object was to convert “poor and indigent scholars” into “men of great learning, fruitful to the church, the king and the realm” – that is secular clergy to be suited for administrative posts.’ The brightest and the best of the Wykehamists usually went up to New College. The core of the college – hall, chapel, library and sets ranged around the Great Quad – was built in 1380–1404. Its garden, with an artificial mound made in 1594, is surrounded on two sides by the old city walls (Sherwood and Pevsner 1974, 166–74). Lionel Robbins told his father on 16 October 1924 that it must be ‘the most beautiful of all the colleges [for] I cannot conceive anything surpassing the beauty of the garden’.
The Oxford Michaelmas term began on Sunday 12 October 1924. Lionel arrived at New College the previous Thursday in order to spend the weekend in college before meeting his students. ‘It was a damp, windy autumn evening, the quad was gloomy and empty and my spirits were at their most diffident and apprehensive.’ He was met by Alic Smith, Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy: ‘in a dozen paces, as he gripped my bag and welcomed me, he made me feel a full member of the college.’ They became lasting friends. Smith was not an outstanding philosopher and had been a civil servant before he became a fellow of New College, but Lionel greatly admired him as ‘a practical idealist, decisive, open-minded, forward-looking, and immensely influential in the councils of the college’. He was devoted to the arts as well as to the college, of which he was later Warden (Bowra 1966, 107–8; Robbins 1971a, 115–16). The senior tutor, H.W.B. Joseph, whom Lionel had met in July, was a much more distinguished philosopher but also a dedicated teacher. In 1924 the Warden was the Reverend William Archibald Spooner, famous for his lapses of speech known as ‘Spoonerisms’. The historian H.A.L. Fisher, who had been President of the Board of Education in the Lloyd George coalition government, was elected Warden in January 1925.
In the 1950s Lionel Robbins was in his fifties. There were family anxieties but his life at the School was easier than in the late 1940s. He shed the burden of many LSE committees but took on others outside the School. Although he left himself little time to write, it was in this decade that he published two of his lasting contributions to his discipline as well as a collection of essays, an edition of a classic in the history of economic thought and a dozen articles or published lectures. This chapter concentrates on his varied activities in the first half of the decade.
On 15 February 1950 Robbins wrote Ludwig Lachmann in South Africa (Letters to and from Economists 1.1.49-August 1950, RP): ‘Affairs here at the School are now very satisfactory. The staff is at least almost equal to the increased demands which are made upon us, and some of the younger recruits are of authentic vintage quality. We have had some seminars recently which were quite up to pre-war standards.’ He wrote Baumol on 21 February that the School was ‘rather dead this year’ (Baumol Papers):
Not that the Seminar is bad; we miss you but Ralph [Turvey] and the younger people are very good & the adoption of special techniques have jolted the graduates into greater participation. But…the building contract for our new common room which was to have been completed by the autumn is not completed yet & shows no sign of approaching that stage. Hence we have no common room & very little common life except at coffee after lunch…This is very bad for us all & especially bad for the new arrivals of whom there are many for it is a complete toss up whether they ever meet anybody outside their own department at all.’ He had ‘reorganized’ his own life: ‘I spend Mondays & Tuesday mornings at home & refuse to come down for anyone short of the Director. In this way I have been able to do quite a respectable amount of work & I am not feeling quite so much at the fag end of life as heretofore.
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