Obituary - Keith Shaw

My first recollection of meeting Keith was at a seminar in the Institute of Social and Economic Research in 1975. I was a newly appointed Research Fellow studying for a doctorate and working for Jack Wiseman and Alan Peacock, and Keith had been invited down from St Andrews. He had written several papers and books with Alan Peacock — including one on Fiscal Policy in Developing Countries — and inevitably I was rather in awe of the intellectual power of this visitor with his shock of greying hair and sharply intelligent look. After the seminar, however, the traditional dinner revealed other sides of Keith’s character — his interest in food and wine, his interest in art and music and (of course) a surreal sense of humour. Alan and he would reminisce about their trips abroad to exotic locations and there was indeed a lot of comic potential about these two economists on long flights and road trips coming across the realities of life in far flung regions. Some of their stories I felt had a closer affinity with ‘Ripping Yarns’ than with Optimal Fiscal Policy.

The association that Keith and Alan had forged at the University of York and on consultancy trips abroad must have played a role in enticing Keith to take up a position at Buckingham. By the early 1980s Alan had become Principal (later Vice-Chancellor) of the University of Buckingham and was keen to establish a well-regarded Department of Economics. Keith arrived to head this Department from his position at the University of East Anglia where he held a Readership, and he set to work attracting staff and developing the curriculum. I certainly remember these times with great affection as I am sure would many of the other academics associated with the Economics Department at the time. It was during these years that Keith worked with David Greenaway, not only editing a Festschrift for Alan Peacock but collaborating on a textbook on macroeconomic theory and policy.

His style of leadership was distinctive to say the least and he must have been regarded with alarm by administrators who might not have quite absorbed his sense of humour. I well remember a wonderful occasion in which he received an application form from a potential student. It contained the required photograph but was unusual in that the candidate was sitting next to his pet dog. This obviously sparked some questions in Keith’s mind. After considering the papers Keith sent his instructions to the Admissions Office. ‘Call the boy for interview and offer the dog an unconditional place’.

Keith gave great service to the University not only by developing the Economics Department but, after the Business Studies programme was started, in acting as Dean of the School of Accounting, Business and Economics. It was a role that cannot have been altogether welcome to him. He was by nature and training a social scientist and policy analyst rather than someone who was at home in what eventually became the School of Business. Indeed his whole attitude to the University was ambivalent. Independence for a man of Keith’s individuality was no doubt welcome, but the compromises made by the University in order to survive in a massively distorted market place went against the grain. In the 1980s and 1990s, and especially after the end of the divide between polytechnics and universities, survival for Buckingham seemed to lie in Law and Business rather than in the Social Sciences and Humanities. Keith faced the brunt of these strategic problems and it is therefore perhaps understandable that on the whole he perceived the world as getting worse. He wrote a pamphlet with Mark Blaug to assess the achievements of the University after its first ten years. It concluded by admitting the incontrovertible — that the University had survived. But it wondered whether it had actually achieved anything distinctive in spite of the intentions of its founders. The debate continues to this day but in very different circumstances. For some the advent of student loans and fees has liberated the system in a way that Buckingham anticipated. For others the entire sector is now so enmeshed in regulatory red-tape that it is impossible to envisage what independence could possibly mean. I think I can guess on what side of this debate Keith would be.

There were some respects, however, in which Keith fitted perfectly into the Buckingham ethos. In a small poorly endowed institution, the old fashioned idea of the academic life embracing teaching, administration and research survived almost as a matter of commercial necessity. As well as many articles in professional Public Finance journals therefore, Keith continued the tradition of writing accessible texts — not only his Macroeconomics text already mentioned, but an introduction to the rational expectations literature which was at the core of policy disputes at the time and which was a firm favourite with students over many years. His book on Keynesian Economics: The Permanent Revolution was not designed as a textbook but again reflected a type of scholarship that is increasingly rare — a work full of novel contributions, clarifications and serious discussion but which does not claim to be a fully-fledged theoretical advance in itself. As the title suggests, Keith regarded discussions of expectations formation, radical uncertainty, asymmetric information, ‘efficiency wages’ and so forth as a continuing elaboration of an essentially Keynesian paradigm.

Another characteristic of small liberal arts institutions is that they lend themselves naturally to the gradual fading away of retired professors. Participation in academic gatherings is always welcome by the organisers and there are times when seminars can resemble a meeting of the University of the Third Age. It was a great loss therefore that Keith’s illness progressively deprived him of this source of intellectual stimulation and contact with new members of staff — or indeed with old members of staff and honorary and visiting Fellows. At the end of Middlemarch George Eliot movingly describes the channels of influence of her heroine as ‘incalculably diffusive’. I have always felt that this description is particularly apt for those who give their lives to education. Keith's influence will continue to be felt through the many alumni who remember his teaching, through his academic papers and through his colleagues who recall his great contribution to establishing Economics and the Social Sciences more generally at the University.

Martin Ricketts,
University of Buckingham

References:

Shaw, G K (1971) An introduction to the theory of macroeconomic policy. Oxford: Martin Robertson, 2e, 1973; 3e, 1977. Spanish edition, 1974.

Shaw, G K with Peacock, A T (1971) The economic theory of fiscal policy. London: Allen and Unwin, 2e, 1976. Italian edition, 1972. Japanese edition, 1973.

Shaw, G K with Peacock, A T (1971) Fiscal policy and the employment problem in less developed countries, OECD, Paris.

Shaw, G K (1972) Fiscal policy, London: Macmillan Studies in Economics. Spanish edition, 1974. Turkish edition, 1975. Japanese edition, 1980. Italian edition, 1980.

Shaw, G K with Greenaway, D (1983) Macroeconomics: theory and policy in the UK. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988; Italian edition, 1992; 3e, 1997.

Shaw, G K (1984) Rational expectations: an elementary exposition. Brighton: Wheatsheaf Books, Japanese edition, 1987. Korean edition, 1987 and 1992. Italian edition, 1990.

Shaw, G K with Greenaway, D. (eds.) (1985) Public choice, public finance and public policy: essays in honour of Alan Peacock. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Shaw, G K (1988) Keynesian economics: the permanent revolution. Hants: Edward Elgar, Japanese edition, 1990.

Shaw, G K with Blaug, M (1988) ‘The University of Buckingham after 10 Years: a tentative evaluation’, Higher Education Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 1.

From issue no. 171, October 2015, pp. 18-19

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