Death of a Great Australian: Hugh Stretton 1924–2015

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The great poly­math and human­i­tar­i­an Hugh Stret­ton died this week­end. I can do no bet­ter than to repro­duce anoth­er great Aus­tralian’s trib­ute to him.

The fol­low­ing is from Geoff Har­court.

Hugh died last Sat­ur­day at the age of 91 after a long ill­ness. I had known him since 1958 when I first came to Ade­laide where he was the much-admired Pro­fes­sor of His­to­ry. In lat­er years we became firm friends, though I con­tin­ued to regard him with awe and admi­ra­tion. He was a giant intel­lect, eas­i­ly Australia’s most deep and pro­gres­sive thinker, and a remark­ably kind and humane man who lived up to his ideals in many prac­ti­cal ways.

Hav­ing estab­lished an excel­lent His­to­ry depart­ment, he resigned from his chair so that he could write. The first prod­uct of this new phase was The Polit­i­cal Sci­ences, pub­lished by Rout­ledge in 1969, and named in the Times Lit­er­ary Sup­ple­ment as a work of ‘near genius’. It con­tains a most pro­found analy­sis of the insep­a­ra­bil­i­ty of analy­sis and ide­ol­o­gy in the social sci­ences. He pub­lished pri­vate­ly his ground-break­ing book, Ideas for Aus­tralian Cities in 1970, which then became a best­seller. Hous­ing and Gov­ern­ment, his Boy­er Lec­tures, were pub­lished in 1974. His Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press book, Cap­i­tal­ism, Social­ism and the Envi­ron­ment, (1976), was so far ahead of its time that it has not received the atten­tion it should have. His vol­umes of essays analyse vital social, polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic issues in Aus­tralian soci­ety. His ‘anti-Samuel­son’ eco­nom­ics text­book, Eco­nom­ics: A New Intro­duc­tion (1999), presents to stu­dents a viable alter­na­tive to main­stream eco­nom­ics.

Most of all, he was a lov­ing and lov­able per­son, always extra­or­di­nar­i­ly gen­er­ous and sup­port­ive to his many friends and admir­ers (over­lap­ping sets), and lov­ing­ly sup­port­ive and proud of his chil­dren. He and Pat had many years of deep love and sup­port for one anoth­er. I doubt that we shall see his like again.

Geoff Har­court Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus G C Har­court School of Eco­nom­ics, UNSW Busi­ness School

I did­n’t know Hugh per­son­al­ly, but he gen­er­ous­ly wrote a cov­er blurb for the first edi­tion of Debunk­ing Eco­nom­ics, and we cor­re­spond­ed briefly at the time. I felt priv­i­leged at the time, and sad­dened now that he is gone.

Hugh had a wis­dom that is lack­ing on both ends of the polit­i­cal spec­trum today. My favourite Stret­ton­ism (which I’m sure I heard via Geoff Har­court) was his gen­tle retort to a par­tic­u­lar­ly left-wing employ­ee of the South Aus­tralian Hous­ing Trust, who assert­ed that there should be no pri­vate hous­ing at all–just pub­lic hous­ing.

Hugh replied “No, we need them to keep us effi­cient, and they need us to keep them hon­est”.

Would that we had such per­spec­tive in today’s polar­ized and triv­i­al­ized polit­i­cal debate.

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About Steve Keen

I am Professor of Economics and Head of Economics, History and Politics at Kingston University London, and a long time critic of conventional economic thought. As well as attacking mainstream thought in Debunking Economics, I am also developing an alternative dynamic approach to economic modelling. The key issue I am tackling here is the prospect for a debt-deflation on the back of the enormous private debts accumulated globally, and our very low rate of inflation.