Angus Maddison, 1926-2010

By now, I guess everyone has heard that Angus Maddison passed away last week. The Economist did not dedicate its obituary to him, but instead spent the whole economic focus section remembering Maddison’s work and contribution. One paragraph in particular struck me:

“There is room for two or three economic theorists in each generation, not more,” wrote Colin Clark, one of Maddison’s heroes. Every other economist, he added, should be content to build knowledge by steadily laying “stone on stone”. Maddison laid the foundations for many big thoughts.
(The Economist, 29 Apr 2010)

A lot of economists and historians have disagreed and criticised Maddison’s intent to estimate economic growth figures from before 1940, and all the way to year 1. I admit that I am one of them. I don’t think it makes much sense, and doubt it tells us very much about living standards or economic thinking from before the 1940s. But that’s not the point. It was the way Maddison did his work which was so brilliant. He was very open about his sources, putting forward suggestions and ideas for how one might gauge the economic circumstance of the past. His work has probably been used as a reference point as often as any national statistical office, but for me it is the openness of his work that make it so excellent. So yes, I am one of those people who have used the foundations laid down by Maddison, I am sorry that he won’t be publishing more of his exciting work.

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