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History of Political Economy 32.1 (2000) 160-161
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An Economist's Ideological Journey
Intellectual Odyssey: An Economist's Ideological Journey. By Neil W. Chamberlain. Raleigh, N.C.: Pentland Press, 1996. 224 pp. $19.95.
First off, it should be said that "ideological" in the title has a meaning quite different from the more familiar, negative one. Professor Chamberlain's meaning is "in the sense of speculative inquiry and the integration of ideas into systems of thought . . ." (vii). The book is a guided tour of the main body of the author's published writings in economics from 1944 to 1982. Since 1982, he has turned from economics to history and fiction.
This is not an autobiography. We learn almost nothing personal; few of those he met along the way are mentioned, and little is said about how those contacts shaped the author's career. Two and one-half years at the Ford Foundation directing its program for improving business school education warrants only six sentences (56).
Dates are not always given, and since there is no bibliography it is sometimes difficult to place a publication in its time frame or in contemporaneous developments in the economics profession. This is unfortunate, for the author's professional work was largely based on empirical investigations of areas of current interest to him--investigations covering the then-present and recent past. The reader is left with few clues to why the author began his career in labor economics and shifted to become primarily concerned with the role of the large corporation in a nation's life and in its culture. [End Page 160]
The author's synopses of his books and major articles are, for the scholar interested in the subjects, likely to be complements rather than substitutes. For economists interested in the history of the profession, the book will be a disappointment. The years of Chamberlain's professional life (1937-82) were years of seismic change in economics. In the postwar years Chamberlain, with his graduate student days behind him, had only two academic "homes"--Yale and Columbia universities. He was well placed to watch the rise of his profession to power and prestige, not to mention the financial rewards and perquisites that often accompanied this rise.
Toward the end of his economics career, the economists' hubris was beginning to find its retribution while university campuses struggled to recover from the trauma of the sixties and seventies. Yet, Chamberlain's explanation of his abandonment of economics upon his retirement in 1982 mentions none of this. Instead, he says: "The future was inscrutable, unpredictable, and policy was a shot in the dark. Indeed, I was becoming more and more doubtful of understanding the present. . . . The satisfaction that I had once derived from economics was undermined by growing skepticism, skepticism in the philosophical sense of doubt whether I had--or could have--adequate grounds for my conclusions and opinion" (212).
The reader is left wondering whether the author is more disillusioned--or simply more honest--than his contemporaries.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign