What bravery looks like in the modern age

It seems but only for a moment that Catallaxy has gone over to the History of Economics. And while I was contemplating all this in that little discussion on Schumpeter here and here, which had followed my own postings on Mill and MMT, this arrived in my email inbox:

The undersigned officers of the HES condemn the deaths of Black people in police custody and the systemic racism that permits political, economic, social and physical violence. We acknowledge our special responsibility, as historians of economics, to educate ourselves and others about the roles played by racism, colonialism and other forms of bias in shaping the concepts, practices, agendas and professional institutions of economists and social scientists throughout history.

The pursuit of historical knowledge leaves no room for the silencing or marginalization of any individuals or communities. Therefore, we commit ourselves to taking concrete steps to foster diversity and inclusion in our Society and its activities. We pledge to support and encourage scholarship that brings new frames of reference to the history of economics. We will listen respectfully, engage honestly and amplify the voices of those who draw our attention to the ways that biases are perpetuated in our Society and our discipline. We will build on efforts to diversify our program and awards committees and the editorial board of the Journal of the History of Economic Thought, and we will encourage journal submissions that bring new perspectives to the past.

We commit to using our journal, conferences and other resources to further these important lines of inquiry. We will encourage critical conversations about our methods and practices that open our discipline to histories that have so far been ignored. We pledge to educate ourselves and to curate critical reading lists that support inclusive curricula, and we ask other historians of economics to make a similar commitment. We look forward to the development of richer and more comprehensive histories of economics.

Marcel Boumans, HES President plus eleven others.

I would never sign such a document, but then I am off in Australia and my career is done and dusted. But just now there is this rejoinder from Stephen Meardon, who is young, in mid-career and the immediate past editor of the Journal of the History of Economic Thought. This is truly brave:

I am sure the HES Executive Committee makes this statement with no intention of taking a side in the US culture war. But that is what it does. And it does no good for the HES.

People have been killed in the custody of US police, some of them egregiously. What the killings signify in some cases is not largely contested. In others it is. What they signify on the whole is contested very much.

Systemic racism? One can make an argument. I can see it. Why is the History of Economics Society, whose mission is to advance inquiry into the named subject, advancing this extraneous and contested argument?

We have a good thing going in our society. An uncommon thing. Scholars with different ideological, methodological, and other convictions communicate openly, learn from one another, and take pleasure in each other’s company and conversation despite their disagreements. Indeed because of them. It works because the HES does not suffer from the we- all-agree syndrome that plagues other scholarly societies and US academia at large. Which happens in good part because the HES sticks to its mission.

You and I just might have an interesting conversation about systemic racism in the United States — why you think it is the salient problem, why I think not. The kind of conversation that has been commonplace in HES coffee breaks and serendipitous hallway encounters for the couple decades and more that I’ve been involved. That conversation will be less common after the HES has decided which of us is right. Try thinking how frequently and freely you’ve heard such a conversation on any US university campus of late.

The scope of permissible conversation in US academic life is narrowing. If there is a salient social problem in the United States that relates to the mission of the HES, that’s it.

The HES has been an academic oasis where the range of values and scope of conversation is great. I hope the HES Exec. will take care in the future to preserve it.

Stephen Meardon
Bowdoin College

A brave brave statement which I could not agree with more.

I HAVE NOW WRITTEN TO THE SOCIETY TO SUPPORT STEVE MEARDON: This is what I wrote:

I would just like to add my own words of support to Stephen Meardon’s comment.

In the modern world as it now is, these are astonishingly brave words.

I agree with everything he has said.

Steve Kates
RMIT University
Melbourne Australia

2 thoughts on “What bravery looks like in the modern age

  1. Pingback: What bravery looks like in the modern age - The Rabbit Hole

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