Sunday, March 4, 2012

Interview with Bob Rowthorn

Actually, I post two interviews, though I will concentrate on the first as the most important.

(1) Alan Macfarlane’s Interview
Bob Rowthorn (the pronunciation of his surname is 'roh-thorn; Emeritus Professor and Fellow of King’s College) is interviewed in the video below, an interview conducted on 13 June, 2008 by Alan Macfarlane. More information on the interview, with other formats and a transcript, can be found here. Some points:
(1) Some notes on his education and a career:
1957-1960 - Mathematics Scholar, Jesus College, Oxford
1960-1961 - Postgraduate Fellowship to study logic and methodology of science at the University of California, Berkeley
1961-1962 - Research student in mathematics, Jesus College, Oxford
1962-1964 - Research student in economics, Nuffield College, Oxford
1964-1965 - Research Fellow (Title A), Churchill College, Cambridge
1965-1966 - College Lecturer, King’s College, Cambridge
1966-1971 - Fellow, King’s College, Cambridge
1966-1971 - University Assistant Lecturer, Faculty of Economics and Politics, Cambridge University
1971-1982 - University Lecturer, Cambridge University
1991-2006 - Professor, Cambridge University
2006-today - Emeritus Professor, University of Cambridge
(2) Although some of his work is broadly within the Keynesian tradition, it is interesting that Rowthorn speaks of a break with Cambridge Keynesianism in his career, and of the influence of Marxism on him from the 1960s and 1970s. Although he is sometimes classified as a Marxist, he counts himself as an ex-Marxist, not left-wing, but communitarian (see his remarks from 35.45 following).

(3) There are some remarks on Michal Kalecki, and Cambridge Keynesianism (from 30.60). Rowthorn has a high opinion of Kaldor.

(4) Bob Rowthorn is well known for his attack on Sraffianism (Rowthorn 1974).

(5) Some insightful remarks on central planning and East Asian industrial policy from 43.11. Rowthorn argues that the failures of central planning were most severe when communist regimes hit the technological frontier, but had a higher degree of success when they were “catching up” and had well-defined goals.

(6) Towards the end of the interview, Rowthorn turns to social and political issues. He sees an important social crisis in the West in the collapse of the stable family unit (from 1.20.10, which you can hear directly by clicking here), and points out that, by and large, the old-style left (especially communist, working class left) was conservative on family social issues. Rowthorn sees the collapse of both trade unions (and the resulting political and economic effects) and the stable family unit as two very severe problems in the West at the moment.

(2) Interview on UK Inequality
This is a brief, much older interview on British inequality.

Rowthorn, R. 1974. “Neo-Classicism, Neo-Ricardianism and Marxism,” New Left Review 86 (July/August): 63-88.


  1. The second interview.

    To what extent do you think the reduced proportion of people working in jobs for the less educated is caused by the rise in the proportion of the educated populace in UK?

  2. I don't think that is really the issue. The issues are persistent involuntary unemployment and the blow to UK manufacturing, the latter owing to faulty macro policy - the Dutch disease in the late 1970s, then the onslaught of Thatcher's quasi-monetarism, then general outsourcing, shift of manufacturing offshore.

  3. You yourself have spoken of the Left supposedly shifting its interest from economic issues to social and philosophical issues.

    Do you think this shift coincided with the end of those old conservative values that were popular among the old style left?

  4. That is no doubt one reason. The other was the turn to neoliberalism in the 1970 and 1980s, and the shift to fashionable postmodernism and poststructuralism.