James E. Meade

Banquet speech

James E. Meade’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1977

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

What an exciting subject is economics and what an impossible combination of qualities does it not demand for its practice: Scientific observation of the facts of commercial life; commonsensical inference, from personal introspection, daily experience and psychological enquiry, about the way in which human beings are likely to react to different stimuli; a sense of the continuity and of the messages of history; logical and mathematical analysis of the implications of a complicated set of interactions; and an admixture of moral and political philosophy. Without some vision of the nature of the Good Society the whole activity is pointless; and the immortals of the subject – Adam Smith, Wicksell, Keynes to name only three of my favourite gods – bear witness to this truth.

Political Economy thus lies somewhere between the visions of Literature and the precisions of Natural Science. For this very reason economists are especially liable to engage in wishful thinking, to observe only what supports their own particular brand of moral and political preconceptions; but I beg of you to remember that economists are after all human beings and that they are not responsible for the creation of the universe on a plan which exposes them more than others to this particular temptation.

The well-balanced economist is a normal human being with his warm heart on the Left, his practical work-a-day hand on the Right, and his clear and thoughtful head in the Centre. Nowhere today is this combination of a warm-hearted desire to improve the lot of mankind, of cool clear-headed analysis of the nature of the problems, and of realistic feasible action more needed than in the development of a decent and effective international economic order, the field in which Professor Bertil Ohlin and I have been so greatly honoured by this award.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1977, Editor Wilhelm Odelberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1978

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1977

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