Obituary: Donald Moggridge

19 Jan 2022

Don Moggridge, who died on 10 April 2021 at the age of 77, was always ready to acknowledge the luck that helped to shape his distinguished career as an economic historian, scholarly editor, and historian of economics. He also once commented: ‘I can’t deny that I have enjoyed myself and found myself doing jobs that I would not have dreamed of when I thought about an academic career’. He was an undergraduate in Political Science and Economics at Trinity College in the University of Toronto. He was intending to do his graduate work in the United States when the Provost of Trinity College called him into his office and asked him if he would like to go to King’s College Cambridge on a Grainger Studentship. In October 1965 he sailed from New York on the penultimate voyage of the Cunard liner Queen Mary. On getting out of a taxi in Cambridge he was met by the College Librarian and invited for sherry before Hall: ‘Thus it came to pass that on my first evening in Cambridge I met Richard Kahn, Nicky Kaldor, Richard Stone, Robin Marris and Luigi Pasinetti, as well as Joan Robinson’ who was to be his first supervisor (Moggridge 1997, pp. 30-1).

At the end of Don’s first year in Cambridge he thought of writing his doctoral dissertation in monetary history, specifically on Britain’s return to the gold standard in 1925. Joan Robinson, ‘sensibly decid[ing] that she would not be a suitable supervisor’, passed him on to Richard Kahn. Kahn suggested he look in the Keynes Papers, then being edited by Elizabeth Johnson, and sent him off to see Austin Robinson. The Bank of England financed a visit to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York for data on UK foreign exchange holdings; then came the shift from a fifty-year to a thirty-year rule for access to UK public records. Don’s first major findings were published in The Return to Gold 1925 (1969) before he had completed the dissertation. This and British Monetary Policy 1924-1931 (1972) established his lasting reputation as an international economic historian.

In 1967 Clare College offered Don a research fellowship tenable for up to six years; he also worked in the Department of Applied Economics on its study of the UK selective employment tax in 1968/9. But at the end of 1968, Austin Robinson asked him to join in editing The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes, which the Royal Economic Society had initiated in 1954 with an editorial committee of Harrod, Kahn, and Robinson, telling him it might take three or four years. Austin’s ‘own task had been that of seeing several of Keynes’s earlier life-time volumes through the press and giving occasional help, criticism and encouragement to Liz Johnson’ who was now living in Chicago; the four volumes she was working on were not yet completed. Don started his work on the edition in October 1969 a month before submitting his dissertation. Liz’s first two volumes appeared in 1971, Don’s first two (of 24) in 1973. As Austin wrote (Robinson 1990, p. 181), ‘progress was worryingly slow until we were lucky enough to find Don Moggridge with his unusual combination of thorough scholarship, quick decision and good judgement as to what to select for publication. He began the most difficult task of all – Keynes’s drafts and correspondence on his way to the Treatise and the General Theory. He finally filled the gaps between the point reached by Liz Johnson’s volumes ... and the end. Increasingly the editing of the series became his responsibility.’

In April 1971 Don was appointed to an assistant lectureship in the Faculty of Economics, converted to a lectureship after less than a year. In addition to lecturing, college supervisions, and his first doctoral students he took on his first two administrative roles: Secretary of the Degree Committee of the Faculty of Economics and the Fellows’ Wine Steward at Clare, gaining responsibility for 200 graduate students and a wine cellar of 25,000 bottles. One of his first doctoral students remembers him as ‘not only a superb scholar but a wonderful human being, both essential qualities as a supervisor’; another recalls wine merchants turning up during supervisions. He wrote the Fontana Modern Masters Keynes (1976) and The Cambridge Economic History of Europe article on the interwar gold standard, at the same time as editing the six Collected Writings volumes on Keynes’s activities during the Second World War.

Out of the blue, Don was asked at Christmas 1973 if he would like to return to the University of Toronto. He was appointed a full professor in the Department of Political Economy in 1974 and returned to Canada in the summer of 1975, giving his undergraduate courses at Scarborough College and becoming Assistant Chair of Economics, until 1985. Over the next fifteen years his administrative career included Associate Dean of the Graduate School (twice), Associate Dean, and then Vice Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science. As his closest decanal colleague recalls, ‘Don was admired by all for his intelligence, erudition, integrity, honesty and no-nonsense attitude. He called things the way he saw them and made no bones about it.’ A Fellow of Trinity College from 1987, the college made him an Honorary Fellow in 2015.

‘Yet, in a way, I never left Cambridge’: Don returned to Clare in 1979-81 and as the Benians Fellow of St John’s College in 1988-9, when he completed his Maynard Keynes: An Economist’s Biography (1992), before acquiring a small house overlooking Fenners’ cricket ground (Moggridge 1997, p.40). In the first Cambridge summer Don found waiting for him Lady Keynes’s laundry basket of papers from Tilton which meant a third ‘General Theory volume’ of the edition (1979) before the four interwar activities volumes published in 1981-2. According to one commentator (Davis 2001, p. 235), ‘the selection and organization of the materials that were included also creates a distinct image of Keynes – one that may very well be the dominant image of Keynes in the foreseeable future ... “Keynes as a working economist and participant in public affairs”’. The last of the 30 volumes was published in 1989.

‘Life after Keynes’ included more editing, first when we collaborated on the wartime diaries of Lionel Robbins and James Meade (1990) and Meade’s Cabinet Office Diary (1990) and then when he commenced work on an edition of Dennis Robertson’s professional correspondence in 1992. Don envisaged the latter as a long-term project involving much travelling in search of Robertson’s almost invariably handwritten letters to his fellow economists. He arranged, with the help of Donald Winch as RES Publications Secretary, that with the support of the Society and Trinity College Cambridge the edition would be published by Cambridge University Press ‘in the next few years’ (Moggridge 1997, p. 44). Like the Keynes edition, completion has been repeatedly delayed: whenever Don thought he had accumulated all known surviving letters, friends or acquaintances would find and send him more.

Don became the treasurer of the committee overseeing the University of Toronto’s annual Conferences on Editorial Problems, organizing its 22nd conference in 1986 on editing economists’ papers. He organized a highly successful conference at Trinity College in 1988 for the History of Economics Society, of which he was President in 1988-9. He was named a Distinguished Fellow of the History of Economics Society in 2008. For twenty years until 2018 he served as review editor of History of Political Economy. He was a member of the University of Toronto Press Manuscript Review Committee for even longer.

In 1994 Don started on an intellectual biography of Harry Johnson, greatly encouraged by Liz. Even before its publication in 2008, the author of the HES Distinguished Fellow citation wrote: ‘Perhaps drawing from his conjoined interests in economic history, economic policy, and the history of economic thought, Professor Moggridge has become our most eloquent advocate of the importance of the art of biography to understanding the work and ideas of economists. His early, “small” biography of John Maynard Keynes... has run to three editions and has been translated into five languages. His later, “large” biography of Keynes... remains the definitive account of Keynes’s work as an economist.’

After editing two more ‘Keynes volumes’, Keynes on the Wireless and a new edition of Essays in Persuasion (2010), Don finished his work on the Robertson edition after his retirement. As a final collaboration I hope now to put the final touches to it before publication.

Susan Howson, University of Toronto