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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
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Sunday, July 25, 2010

An obituary to die for

Some of the best writing is found in the obituaries of The Economist; they're quirky and sarcastic and always beatifully written. Reading them is like taking a master class in journalism.

The May 29 issue features an obituary for British economist Wynne Godley, who died on May 13th at the age of 83. Here's part of what The Economist had to say:
On the face of it, this was not a turbulent life. Yet Mr Godley said he had a lonely childhood, involving a violent maiden aunt and the “chamber of horrors of a British prep school”. Later, in his 30s, he lived life “through an artificial self” in “a state of dissociation”, which drove him into the clutches of a fiendish psychoanalyst. This in turn blighted his middle years.

His background, though it might misleadingly be called privileged, was mixed up. The first Lord Kilbracken had been a protégé of a Liberal prime minister, Gladstone, but was a Conservative; and the second, Wynne’s father Hugh, also a Tory, had been madly in love with Violet Asquith, the daughter of another Liberal prime minister. Hugh separated from Wynne’s mother about the time he was born, and was impotent, anti-Semitic and alcoholic. Wynne’s mother paraded naked in front of him and would tell him, as a child, of the intense pleasure she got from sexual intercourse. But he reached the age of 17 not knowing that women had vaginas.

He was supremely happy at Oxford, where his tutor was Isaiah Berlin, to whom he said he owed all his higher education. But, he wrote, “Nora [his stepmother] shot herself in the head with a shotgun; my father, his entire fortune squandered, died alone in a hospital where the nurses were unkind to him; my half-sister was committed to a high-security mental institution at Epsom; my mother had a bad stroke and lived out her last six years hemiplegic and helpless, her mind altered. She told her nurses that they were ‘lower-class scum’ and complained that I was ‘marrying the daughter of a New York yid’.”

Against a background like this, a little waywardness in the world of macroeconomics seems entirely forgivable.

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