Robert Charles Oliver (Robin) Matthews (1927-2010)

G.C. Harcourt


Robert Charles Oliver Matthews, who was always known as Robin, was born on 16 June 1927, in Scotland. He was the son of Oliver Harwood Matthews, WS, and Ida Matthews (nee Finlay). His father, an Englishman, became an Edinburgh solicitor. Robin’s daughter, Alison Matthews, told me (26 September 2014) that his mother had ‘an impeccable bourgeois Scots pedigree’. His parents met during the First World War in Constantinople/Istanbul—Oliver was a Commander Paymaster in the Royal Navy, Ida was in the diplomatic service— and after the war they married and went to Edinburgh where he worked in her father’s law firm. Tam Dalyell writes: ‘In the 1930s, legal Edinburgh was a small place [where] families knew each other’ (Dalyell 2010).

Ida was the major influence on Robin. She spoke fluent French, often to Robin at home, she was at the Paris Peace Conference in 1918 as a translator,

I have been hampered in writing this chapter by being unable to obtain a complete CV of Robin Matthews. As he was a prolific writer, I have had to concentrate on what I hope has been a representative sample of his many wide-ranging publications. I am most grateful to Tony Atkinson, Prue Kerr, Michael Lipton, Alison Matthews, Gay Meeks, the late Aubrey Silberston, Vela Velupillai, Clemens Gresser and the wonderful staff of the Alfred Marshall Library, Claire Butlin of the Clare College Archives, and Bridget Riley, College Secretary, All Souls College, for the great help they gave me while I was writing the chapter.

G.C. Harcourt (h)

Professor Emeritus Economics, School of Business,

University of New South Wales, Australia e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2017 955

R.A. Cord (ed.), The Palgrave Companion to Cambridge Economics,

DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-41233-1_43

and in later life wrote poetry. Robin himself ‘could read and speak Russian, as well as the standard Latin and Greek, French and Italian of his generation and class’ (Alison Matthews, 26 September 2014). Robin went to the Edinburgh Academy for which he had a lifelong affection. He told Dalyell ‘that he owed his career to the School, and in particular to two superb maths teachers’. He went up to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in 1943 (when he was 16), where he first read Classics (Part I) and then Modern Greats, Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE). He was a research student at Nuffield, 1947-1948, a Lecturer at Merton, 1948-1949, before going to Cambridge as a University Assistant Lecturer, 1949-1951. He was elected a Fellow of St John’s in 1950 and promoted to a University Lectureship in 1951. (His and my great friend, the late Aubrey Silberston, was also a Fellow of St John’s.) In 1965 he was elected to the Drummond Chair of Political Economy at Oxford (with which went a Fellowship at All Souls), succeeding John Hicks.[1]

In 1975 Robin was elected to the Mastership of Clare, a position that he held until 1993. (I was told that his election was masterminded by our mutual friend, the late Charles Feinstein, who was then Senior Tutor of Clare.) When Brian Reddaway, another Clare person, retired from the Chair of Political Economy (‘Marshall’s Chair’) Robin replaced him in 1980, becoming Emeritus in 1991. So Robin held the two senior Oxbridge chairs. His many contributions to the discipline, the profession, and the community make it abundantly clear why.

While his career was overwhelming at Cambridge and Oxford, from 1972 to 1975, he served as the Chair of the Social Sciences Research Council (SSRC) where Robin’s astute manoeuvres and integrity—his ‘voice [of] moderation and courtesy, [to which was] added considerable personal charm’, as Dalyell writes—prevented its abolition by Margaret Thatcher, the then Secretary for Education in the Heath government. He held many other major posts: for example, President of the Royal Economic Society, 1984— 1986, Visiting Professor, University of California at Berkeley, 1961—1962, a Managing Trustee of the Nuffield Foundation, 1975-1996, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Expert Group on non-inflationary growth, 1975-1977, and Chairman, Bank of England Panel of Economic Consultants, 1977-1993. He received a number of honorary degrees and was elected an Honorary Member of the American Economic Association in 1993 and the American Academy of Arts and Social Sciences in 1995. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1968 and was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1975.

In his first period at Cambridge he was an assistant editor of the Economic Journal, working with Austin Robinson and as review editor.[2] He married Joyce Hilda Lloyds in 1948; they had one daughter, Alison. Joyce died in 2006. Robin died ‘very peacefully’, Tim Smiley (19 September 2010) tells us, after a long illness on the morning of 19 June 2010.

As with the very best PPE graduates, Robin was a real all-rounder. Over the years, his research took in economic theory, economic history, methodology, and, most important of all, policy. From the beginning he had a comprehensive structure in his approaches to economics but not ones ever carved in stone. His teaching, research, and administrative duties over the years made him more and more aware of the inadequacies of ‘conventional economic models of “rational individualistic utility maximisation,” [so that increasingly his] interests moved toward the institutional and psychological underpinnings of economic behaviour’ (The Telegraph 2010). His wide-ranging interests and approaches are reflected in his major publications. Though he had no formal training in mathematics after he left secondary school, he was a capable mathematician. He understood theory set out in a mathematical manner and he used mathematics relevantly and with mastery, but also sparingly in his own writings.

Robin always kept up to date with developments in economic theory and history and made sure his teaching embodied them in a critical but fair manner. I vividly remember going to a fine set of lectures which he gave in 1980 to Cambridge undergraduates on macroeconomics and monetary theory and policy in light of the contributions of Milton Friedman and Robert Lucas. He lucidly explained the gist of them; he extracted the positive aspects while maintaining the Keynesian foundations on which he had been brought up and to which he still adhered.

  • [1] I was in Robin’s room in the Cambridge Faculty when Hicks rang to tell him of his election. Believe itor not, I discreetly withdrew as their conversation began.
  • [2] Robin very kindly gave me Minhass important 1963 book to review when I was very much a noviceeconomist. This was typical of his behaviour. Reviewing it had a significant impact on my subsequentintellectual development.
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