Remarks by Professor Robert Solow: Bhagwati Festschrift

Robert M. Solow

Remarks by Professor Robert Solow: Bhagwati Festschrift
Solow, Robert M.
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Presented at "International Trade and Factor Mobility: Theory and Policy," a conference in celebration of the 70th birthday of Jagdish Bhagwati, Columbia University, August 5-6, 2005.
You, most of you here, think of Jagdish as a sage- a chirpy sort of sage – but nevertheless a sage. As a young man, I have to tell you, he struck us as a cross between a mad geometer and Peter Sellers. And it was a remarkable education to teach Jagdish Bhagwati. Seen from my perspective, as an outsider in international economics and trade theory and commercial policy, I think of Jagdish, professionally, as having been an important methodological influence on his branch of economics and economic theory – and a very good methodological influence. For a subject so complex and so general equilibrium in character, trade theory has been relatively free of technical fireworks for their own sake, and more particularly, trade theory – international trade economics – has not been vulnerable to a bad kid of malformation that is common in Economics. And what I have in mind is a sort of uncritical adoption of foolish special assumptions for no other reason than that they lead, by a difficult technical path, to strong conclusions that are then defended on the ground that anything that is arrived at in such a difficult way just has to be true. The feeling of that kind of excess has been absent from trade theory, and I think that a lot of that is due to the kind of economist Jagdish has been – and is. He has stuck to plausible but simple assumptions tailored for models that matter, and has aimed at results that are defended in the only really convincing way, namely, that they follow, logically, by steps you can actually understand, from fairly transparent assumptions that you can actually mostly believe, and they lead to results that don’t make you feel like an ass when you state them.
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