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Vale Geoff Harcourt

Steve Keen [1]

Credit: Photo by Louis-Phillipe Rochon within Reference 1

The quintessentially Australian rebel economist Geoffrey Harcourt has died at the age of 90. This was not the news that I wanted to receive on my first return to Australia since the pandemic, but at least it means I can be there to pay my respects to him at his funeral. He had lived a long and good life, but I know, from losing my own mother at 94, that this is no comfort when the person is so good that you want them to live forever. Geoff was one such soul.

He was an extraordinary man: a great sportsmen, excelling in cricket and football as well as running; an anti-war campaigner who risked his own life to fight against Australia’s involvement in America’s unjust war in Vietnam; a raconteur of great wit, who was invited to give numerous after-dinner speeches, even by economists who generally disagreed with his approach to economics; an active humanist who sought to bring out the best in humanity; and a generous and loving father to his children, including “The Airport Economist” Tim Harcourt.

I first met Geoff when I was an undergraduate student at Sydney University (I think it was in 1974). I had led the strike against mainstream economics in 1973 (along with Richard Osborne, Richard Fields, and Steve Irons) that had led to the decision to split the Economics Department and form a new Department of Political Economy, which made Sydney University the place to visit for this Adelaide-based iconoclast. Geoff gave a lecture on the Cambridge Controversies over the definition and nature of capital, and then joined the staff and students for drinks at the Whitehorse Hotel in City Road.

The staff sat at one table in the beer garden, and the students at another. We were all surprised—and pleased—when Geoff left the staff table and came to spend the entire session with us.

That generosity of spirit persisted throughout his life, as did his interest in non-mainstream economics. He remained active at the University of New South Wales until well into his 80s, regularly working there and socialising with the handful of non-orthodox economists who survived the purge that reduced that once-humanist-oriented department to another Neoclassical training camp.

For young scholars who’d like to know more about Geoff’s work, see ref [1] and especially ref [2], which covers his major works.

Now I’ll go back onto the balcony and continue drinking the fine bottle of South Australian red wine that I bought to toast a farewell to Geoff, that most Australian of intellectual larrikins, in this most Australian of venues.

PS My thanks to my good friend Louis-Phillipe Rochon for the photo in this post.



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