The ideas of George Shackle and Henry Boettinger.
A magnificent vision takes shape in your letters (Shackle to Boettinger, 19 Feb. 1974, Boettinger Letters, Add. 8817/20) (1)
I can say I have never received a letter which meant more to me (Boettinger to Shackle, 10 August 1967, Shackle Papers, 9/1/461)
Our friendship has been for me an inexhaustible spiritual resource (Shackle to Boettinger, 24 Sept. 1980, Boettinger Letters).
Between 1967 and 1989 a sporadic, but significant, long-distance correspondence of about 30 letters took place between George Shackle and the American executive, Henry Boettinger. The friendship grew, Boettinger visited, his immediate family became Anglophiles and he retired to England. Their correspondence is all held in the 'GLS Shackle Papers' at Cambridge University Library.
George Lennox Sharman Shackle (1903-1992) needs no introduction. His work on Keynes's economics business decision-making have been widely read and admired, though his lasting impact on the profession at large has been modest, disappointingly so, if I may intrude. Shackle is a noted figure in heterodox economics of the post-Keynesian and the Austrian varieties, but he does not fit snugly into either grouping. After earlier courtship, he was spurned by the academic mainstream, so his hopes turned for a time more to those in the practical world who saw value
in his work.
Much less known is the second figure in the story. Based on the biographical information provided in several of his published works, Henry Boettinger was an engineer, (2) accountant and early management scientist who joined Bell System in 1948 and in 1968 became Assistant Comptroller in the Management Science Division at American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T)(3) What set Boettinger apart from the typical correspondent was not only his cultivated, intellectual capacity and academic qualifications earned at Johns Hopkins in engineering, at the University of Michigan in physics, at New York University Graduate School in economics and at Wharton at Pennsylvania, but also his breadth and depth of practical experience at high corporate levels. (4) He was a Professor of Management Philosophy at Pace University and a Fellow of Oxford University. Indeed, he was the author of an impressive body of writings. (5) Boettinger's practical orientation looked away from the calculation of net present value espoused in business schools towards cash-flow management over a twelve-month timeframe, early data mining exercises and using short-term scenarios to help manage inventory. Later he became involved in embedding computers in the workplace to enhance both measured productivity and job satisfaction.
The closeness of the world views of Shackle and Boettinger is not obvious. The crucial act in the formation of their friendship was when Boettinger initiated correspondence by saying how much he admired Shackle's work and sending him some of what he had already published. In his article 'Big Gap in Economic Theory' he wrote:
Probably the best diagnosis of what now ails economics comes from G.L.S. Shackle, one of England's first-rate professionals. In his slim masterpiece, A Scheme of Economic Theory, he demonstrates that the major theories of economic thought ... conflict with each other so much that they could never be blended together ... (Boettinger 1967: 58)
Not surprisingly, Shackle was impressed and delighted. Later, Boettinger in a letter dated 3 Nov. 1969 (Shackle Papers, 9/2/8), showed effusive joy when Shackle dedicated a book to him. (6)
Their letters gush with genuine fondness and generosity, but there is also the exchange of ideas and praise. Shackle typically wrote letters that seemed emotionally unrestrained, almost to the point of being formulaical. (7) so, but one does not expect hardened corporate executives to melt and mellow. In a letter to Stephen Frowen, Boettinger wrote of Shackle:
He seems an unattainable model for me in wondrous mixture of clearness of thought, beautiful expression, and personal qualities of a natural courtesy, grace, and a kindness beyond anything in my experience. (31 Aug. 1989, Boettinger Letters, Add. 8817)
There indeed was something special about their relationship. There was friendship and high regard, beyond what for Shackle was normal kindness and goodwill. In much of his correspondence, almost the same words are used by Shackle for friend and acquaintance alike. There is a measured intimacy behind the warm outpourings of regard. (8) But he was generous in the detail in his responses almost regardless of the academic ranking of those who wrote to him. What differed about the correspondence with Boettinger was the level of personal and intellectual disclosure and connection as time passed.
Sadly, Boettinger's acknowledgement of Shackle contrasts with Shackle's failure to gain converts more widely. His efforts in formalism failed to convert the mainstream, and his poetry also failed to inspire a critical mass of heterodox followers. He was praised, well liked and respected in high places, but the mainstream by the end had kept a safe distance. Or perhaps it was he who kept a safe distance by refusing to compromise. His influence in various domains of Keynesian economics concerning probability (9) and uncertainty, choice and Imagination (10) as well as the realities of decision-making, went in asynchronous Cycles. His ideas on combining the methods of art and science also appear to have been rather neglected, as the Austrian circle dwelt mostly on his subjectivism. His views on how practical business people decide have not been widely embraced by practical business-people or by those who teach MBA classes.
In Shackle's writings, style sometimes displaced substance. The prose sometimes becomes repetitive and formulaic after a while. Much of his work invites quotation, but sometimes the words stick to one's boots like heavy mud. Professional technique always lies behind art, of course. Shackle had a poetic style in his academic prose, but a more openly emotional one in his letters. But here also the method becomes unclothed the more one reads. It remains clear, though, that the Boettinger exchanges were unique.
The main body of this article is composed of a few interrelated parts. Firstly, in section 2, there is an introduction to the tenor and scope of Boettinger's writings in which his audience is predominantly professionals in business management. Secondly, in section 3, Shackle's impact on business economics is briefly introduced. Thirdly, in section 4, his views on the method of economic science and how it progresses are discussed at which point Boettinger re-enters the picture. Lastly, a conclusion is provided in section 5.
2 Themes in Boettinger's Writings
Some conclusions can be drawn from even a quick and selective tour of Boettinger's published writings. Both style and substance are noteworthy. On style, reviewers of Boettinger point out that he is a skilled communicator. His Moving Mountains, itself a work about successful communication, was described as:
... thoughtful and erudite, but not scholarly. Rather it illustrates the author's belief that 'presentations are a very personal art form'. Every public relations practitioner can read this book with enjoyment and profit. (Anon. 1969: 33) (33)
'Scholarly' here, I gather, means that it cannot be read with enjoyment. When Shackle (1972: ii) chose to use dry technical methods that were 'professional in style', he too gained few or no adherents, even among the profession.
Shackle wrote to Boettinger that 'I have often been told that the title of Economics for Pleasure is misleading' (8 Sept., 1973, Boettinger Letters, Add. 8817/17: iii). His writing was not framed according to his audience and he lacked Keynes's thrusting persuasive personality. (12) The combination of insight and persuasive flair keeps key insights in view; the history of ideas is a fast and merciless quicksand. Keynes had both abilities, but even his ideas struggle and gasp to live. But physics, which was Shackle's early interest as a schoolboy, is not engineering, and economics is not business. (13) Shackle and Boettinger shared enough to communicate and differed enough to learn, but not even their combined powers could reach the critical energy.
Boettinger (1967) pointed to the paucity of economic theory concerning technical innovation that persisted long after Schumpeter's early work.14 Though I do not recall Shackle stressing technological change specifically, of course innovation in the sense of and imagining new opportunities, as distinct from perceiving existing unexploited ones, is an important theme. The role of dynamic technology was 'in the air' at the time, though economic modelling of it was in its infancy. Non-technical advances such as worker motivation and decision-making processes were also important in affecting productivity, as writers of 'letters to the editor' of Harvard Business Review pointed out (see Houck 1967 and Sawhill 1967).
Boettinger (1969) soon reported his experiences in humanely managing the particular workplace environment within which a specific technological change is to be implemented. He quotes Alfred North Whitehead:
Each human being is a more complex creature than any social system to which he belongs. (1969: 36)
Sometimes we have been guilty of thinking about jobs rigidly as though the [task] outlines were created by shooting hot plastic into a mold. This then becomes someone's job for all time. (1969: 43)
For Boettinger, policy is a humane art:
In sheer banality, few statements exceed the assertion that management is an art. Grizzled managerial veterans sometimes shout it to silence insolent or overeager newcomers who brandish shiny scientific methods during decision-making sessions .... Over the past few years, I have sought out successful practitioners and teachers in some endeavors recognized as arts--musical performance, ballet, painting, sculpture, architecture, writing, surgery, cooking, and certain sports of the individual type like fencing and horsemanship. My purpose was to see if they have some attributes in common that could be applied to the teaching and practice of management. All the statements about art that I have gathered come out something like this: art is the imposition of a pattern, a vision of a whole, on many disparate parts so as to create a representation of that vision; art is an imposition of order on chaos. The artist has to have not only the vision that he or she wants to communicate but also the skills or craft with which to present the vision. This process entails choosing the correct art form and, within that art form, the correct technique. In good art, the result is a blending of vision and craft that involves the viewer, reader, or listener without requiring that he separate the parts in order to appreciate the whole. To see how this distinction relates to management, we shall examine two qualities good artists have--vompetence (technical skill) and imagination (the facility of mind to arrive at visions). All these activities are, however, far less complicated than successfully launching a new economic policy, introducing new technology to an entire industry, or properly restructuring an institution's organization to meet new markets and demands. Yet these are things that managers are expected to be able to do well, rapidly, and almost immediately. Are companies making sure that their managers are masters of the best available techniques before they are called on to carry out tasks that are fraught with grave human, political, and social consequences? I doubt it. Every artist attempts to produce cohesive patterns by selecting, rejecting, and relating the various components available to him to express his vision. Every manager also deals with such designs; some he has inherited, some he struggles to express, some he loathes, and others are still unknown and appear only as early tremors of imagination. (1975: 54-6)
The last paragraph has the style and substance of Shackle. Art is a coherent amalgam of technique, vision and passion. 'Coherence' (like 'cohesive') is just a word; it has many aspects--logical, aesthetic, narrative and functional come to mind. Too much should not be made of the mere use of it. Boettinger explored artistic mastery further:
An organization's management is like a knife whose cutting edge is imagination but whose momentum is derived from the mass of experience and effort of the personnel behind that edge ... I once asked a ballet teacher if she could tell me which students would become expert performers. [She replied] '[F]irst-class work can only be done by those who can shed their inhibitions. Those who.., hold themselves back out of fear of appearing ridiculous will never make it. I try to help those who are merely timid, and I have a little success, but inhibition is the most difficult obstacle'. (1975: 58)
Audacity is a trait more endearing than Schumpeter's heroic glee in mastery achieved by collateral destruction and it is a quality more refined and charming than Kirzner's mere alertness to current opportunity.
The case of devising a new organisation or business strategy is analogous to the formulation of social policy, especially if it is intended in some way to be organically transformative. Good management is coping well with the unforeseeable. Science and mathematics have a significant domain of application, but art and creativity are in the brew:
The actual development of a management model is an exhilarating, creative act and takes place through intense dialogue between managers and management scientist [sic?]. The scientist hammers out the form, the manager tests each formulation and modifies it by applying his own experience and concerns. It is an art which unites the craft and lore of the manager with the skills of the management scientist to create an insight-producing design ... (Boettinger 1970a: 31)
Though the decisions of managers within a large corporate tanker may differ from those taken by an entrepreneur exposed at the helm of an ordinary schooner, some insights do transfer and Boettinger's work clearly complements Shackle's. Boettinger applies Shackle's insights in the light of his own experience. This is one way in which Shackle's ideas are tested through use.
3 Shackle and Business
Boettinger is as close to being a practical convert of Shackle's as one is likely to find. Senior planners at Shell used scenario planning under Shackle's broad inspiration (Loasby 1990: 50, 58). (15) Shackle did attract occasional support from practical thinkers in the domain of business. The well-known business scholar, Peter Drucker, mentioned him favourably:
The next Economics will thus require radically different micro-economics as its foundation ... It requires a theory that aims at 'satisficing'... [and] will be dynamic and assume risk, uncertainty, and change in technology, economic conditions and markets. Yet it should be an equilibrium economics, integrating a provision for an uncertain and changing future into present and predictable behaviour. Much of the spadework for this has already been done--in part, fifty years ago, by the Chicago economist Frank Knight; in part by the contemporary English economist G.L.S. Shackle. (Drucker 1981 : 15).
I wonder how Shackle reacted to being rendered as representing an important special case that could be tagged on as a 'provision'. He spent much of his professional life rejecting attempts to read him down so as to fit in better with existing doctrine. (16) Shackle had witnessed how Keynes's insights had been compromised and negotiated away, so he dug in. But the price of purity turned out to be obscurity both academically and in the business world.
Shackle's subjectivist vision can briefly be portrayed. We each dwell in an uncertain world full of potential surprises, good and bad. We are without the foreknowledge that would ground our choice demonstrably, yet we must now decide to act or not to act. We are not left in peace; we are confronted with crucial choices, and imagination and hope guide our intelligence. This is a radically 'micro' view, and there must be a tension concerning its expression in explanations of how industries and how macro-economies work. The macro realm directs tendencies back to the micro, and theorists differ about the extent to which the individual has effective autonomy.
As many have noted, Keynes did not begin and stop at individual uncertainty, as Shackle so often inclines to do. Macro processes systematically sweep individuals along involuntarily. But Shackle did accept that governments could and should contain the swings in total spending to preserve a stable aggregate framework that allows individuals scope to test the merits of their ideas. Sometimes meritorious ideas and actions are frustrated or even annihilated by the ideas and actions of others. (17)
Shackle saw the precious individual as fragile and exposed, but also resourceful, agile and imaginative. We find ourselves in an ocean and there are challenges to meet:
[The] sailing boat is all the time wrapped in a 'climate' of wind, waves and currents that is complex, uncontrollable, unavoidable and largely unpredictable. The structure of the boat, and the range of its manipulations that can be done with sails and rudder, are constant; but what will happen depends also, essentially, on the weather and the sea, and on the conjectures made by the crew; fallible judgements, however great the crew's experience and on their knowledge of what can be known. (Shackle to Leijonhufvud, 6 Aug. 1973, Shackle Papers, 9/4/unnumbered)
Leijonhufvud's reply was characteristically elegant and exact:
Perhaps what remains of differences between us after this exchange of views is appropriately reflected in the fact that, in choosing a nautical metaphor, you came up with a bobbing small craft whereas I saw something more stately, in the order of a 9000-ton dry-cargo freighter ... (Leijonhufvud to Shackle, 10 Sept. 1973, Shackle Papers, 9/3/47)
Shackle regards individuals as having objective impacts on the small economic worlds that they may inhabit. In this domain the Austrians may be right. And some dangerous currents may be avoided by individual skill. Shackle may not be as caustic or as interventionist as Keynes, but both strive to protect constructive microeconomic freedoms by devising macroeconomic and other controls that preserve a decent and harmonious way of life. Lack of foreknowledge does not mean resignation: 'un-knowledge does not mean un-hope' (Perlman (quoting Shackle) to Shackle, 1982, Shackle Papers, 9/8/339).
In acknowledging Boettinger's corporate standing, Shackle writes: 'I have never exercised any practical influence on even the smallest scale of public affairs' (Shackle to Boettinger, 8 Jan. 1973, Boettinger Letters, Add. 8817/14). Although a supporter of the mixed economy, Shackle stayed clear of debates over economic policy in macroeconomics or microeconomics. The reason is not despair or policy nihilism. In a letter to Philippe Beugrand, Shackle wrote
As you say, I have never expressed any views about public economic policy, except a feeling that the mixed economy may avoid the harshness of extremes. I have no taste for public controversy. The green meadows of thought are more seductive than the dusty arena of public affairs. (Date 29 Jan. 1982, Shackle Papers, Box 22, unnumbered)
For Shackle it always came down to aesthetics.
4 Shackle's Method
Our vision of the world is consistent with the methods we use to study it. Those who see the economic world as mechanistic at its core will use mathematics and statistics in a way consistent with this essentially deterministic belief. Those who see the world as evolving in a complex way beyond the reach of useful formal generalisation may prefer more narrative and historical methods such as case studies. Shackle's vision and method was also consistent, but not as simple to state. The complexities of the world demand diversity of method and viewpoint, but the methods are complementary and not those favoured by the mainstream. What binds them is the artistic sensibility that lies behind their selection and use. Shackle's artistic sensibility is illustrated in the following excerpts:
[T]o my mind prose can be poetic. I have always believed what seems to me obvious that form and content are one. I should be ashamed of writing anything to which I had not given the most powerful and beautiful expression that I am capable of. (Shackle to Rev. Dick Hare, 13 Nov. 1991, Shackle Papers, 9/13/29; as published in Littlechild 2000: 353)
I have been a theoretician, because it was the nearest I could get to being a poet. A theory is a poem, at any rate literally, a thing made, a work of art. The Greeks, you will tell me, believed the poet told more truth than the historian. I have long thought that the truth was too elusive and remote to be the real goal. The goal for the theoretician is beauty (elegance of proof and result). (Shackle to Boettinger, 15 July 1974, Boettinger Letters, Add. 8817/2; also in Shackle Papers, 9/4; emphasis added)
Plato, of course, cherished philosophical and mathematical beauty, but he deeply distrusted the poets and artists and denied them the autonomy that Shackle appears to grant them and to himself.
Shackle argued that beauty is a hallmark of scientific truth, or at least that it illuminates something of the world or of the relationships between ideas (Shackle to Boettinger, 15 July, 1974, Boettinger Letters, Add. 8817/21). Beauty is the elegant revelation of the hidden simplicity that dwells within complexity. This notion is well expressed in a review of Shackle's A Scheme of Economic Theory (1965) published in the Economist:
Pending the pragmatic test of a theory there is, he says, another one: the aesthetic. Beauty may reasonably be sought in theories as in other works and applauded when it is found. (Anon. 1966a: 111)
And in the preface to the paperback edition of The Years of High Theory (handwritten draft, 26 Aug. 1982, Shackle Papers), Shackle wrote that different styles in economics, whether mathematical, philosophical or empirical, are all expressions of the creative urge: 'Each in its own way is a form of art, and in each we may truly discover beauty'.
Whatever parallels there may be in the creation of art and of science, there are differences between the two disciplines. Boettinger observes this when he writes:
Another contrast between the arts and the sciences is that they are apprehended in different ways. Whereas the benefits of science can come to people second hand, almost by report, the appreciation of art always personally involves the spectator. The artist, then, must engage and involve the viewer, listener, or reader in the work of art itself. For science to be understood, there is no such condition. (1975: 60)
This means that scientists may be philistines, as Shackle had already discovered. In this regard, Shackle considered model-building as an art and the models themselves as art. Even if the application of mainstream economics was meagre in domain, the beauty and coherence of general equilibrium theory made it literally a work of high art. Beauty cradles and expresses truth. In Shackle, different models 'all have their place, as statements of one conceivable set of circumstances, and as part of a synoptic view of the world that is so complex that it needs to be looked at from many vantage points' (Anon. 1966b: 639). They all have their place in a wider taxonomy of the possibilities explored:
My wife has a book of crochet patterns, one of which is called 'A supple trellis'. It is a shawl of very fine, gossamer wool, with structure and coherence, yet with no rigidity, its mathematics are topological. Such is economic theory. It must stretch and twist, but must not tear (the invariants of topology are these). But this book I speak of is full of shawls, of all colours, designs, conformations and structures (stitches). We need that too. Find the one that fits the scene, is the only way. (Shackle to Boettinger, 15 July 1974, Shackle Papers, 9/4 ii)
Aesthetic art and practical art, as expressed in the pattern and in the garment made if the skill is there, were thus at one. Economics should have coherent but flexible structure with multiple perspectives co-existing. But it is not a pluralism that is based on mere tolerance or even respect. It is that each contributes to a totality that is harmonious and penetrative at its deepest level of synthesis.
Even the threads of everyday experience can be woven by artistry into scientific form. The ordinary business mind wrestles with uncertainty, and Shackle conveyed insights best when weaving words. Neither his diagrams nor equations rendered them in even a vaguely congenial form. To what must have been his great regret, he failed to conjure seductive beauty from his mathematics. The aesthetic escaped his formalist grasp. What is initially puzzling is that he should even have attempted to formalise his ideas. He also felt, most likely wrongly, that those who were unpersuaded by the radiant charm of words would yield to the austere beauty of demonstration.
Shackle's Mathematics at the Fireside (1952) is at its psychological heart a nostalgic book in which his mathematician father at Cambridge teaches a young George about mathematics. He must have deeply wished to acknowledge and respect his father in his own works. Also he was drawn to physics as a teenager and it is natural for us to hold that he sought to express his skills and interests in harmony. Shackle's early work was more aridly mathematical; perhaps he was still winning his professional spurs and could not yet presume to express ideas with only insight and poetic prowess to back them.
Those who dismiss metaphor as method perhaps do not recognise that some insights have no better expression in formal terms. Insight sometimes expresses itself only through analogy. Informal methods may reach where formal ones cannot. After Shackle sent Boettinger his Epistemics and Economics (1972), the latter wrote of his 'delicious feeling of peril, tension and expectation for ultimate harmony is opposites which only great music adequately expresses (Boettinger to Shackle, 20 Feb. 1973, Shackle Papers, 9/3/14). (18) Mathematics is not famed for expressing this at all.
Your own extreme discernment so brilliantly encapsulated: 'using the shadow to see the light': This expresses my inverted measure of epistemic standing with utter perfection. (Shackle to Boettinger, 1980, Boettinger Letters, Add. 8817/26)
Possibility emerges from darkness into the light of imagination not observation. Probability and mathematical expectation are the language of belief rather than of doubt and potential surprise (Shackle to Boettinger, 26 Oct. 1969, Shackle Papers, 9/2/28).
In reality, the aesthetic criterion does not appear to suffice for critical success and scientific durability. It is important to find a home in a progressive research program. What also succeeds is what has merit in application, or cash value. As we live in an evolving, though still mixed, economy, Shackle appeared to retain faith in the ongoing diversity of models that are in use, undergoing refinement or newly under construction. He did not wish to displace marginalism or general equilibrium theory from their places of honour in the curriculum, but he aspired to create a model of decision-making that had both aesthetic and practical merit. Shackle's open response to rejection was polite: he would try again. But his real response was obstinate; he could not cede any ground in matters of truth or art. For Shackle, decisions ultimately boiled down to two salient options. Often it was principle versus expediency, and the choice was clear.
Though jarring to the ear of a mainstream academic professional, wider intellectual culture would have found Shackle more melodious. The themes of novelty and transience were in the air. Shackle's perspective dovetails with Arthur Koestler's The Act of Creation of 1964 and with the work of Alvin Toffier, a friend of Boettinger (Boettinger 1970b: 6). The mood of the late 1950s and 1960s was in sympathy with existentialist-humanist plight of the ultimately solitary person confronted by uncertainty and the need to make a crucial choice (see Anon. 1962; Spooner 1971).
The individual is the focus of Shackle's theorising, but freedom is uniquely treasured in Shackle's scheme. Instead of sagging bereft into fatalistic despair, we rise to art and through art. Belief about what cannot be known is not a matter of yes or no, but a matter of holding critical possibilities simultaneously in mind. Doubt is not merely to test faith; it is essential to balance it. Doubt may even frame and outline the shape and texture of belief just as darkness swathes what is visible. You are the artist of your own life and of your very self. Shackle (1983) pointedly described his academic journey as 'A Student's Pilgrimage' in the title.
Shackle was for decades in a school with pretty close to one full member. Being a member of his fan club meant sharing in cycles of hope and disappointment. His central message in the uncompromising way he framed it was antagonistic to orthodoxy. His style delighted some but wearied others, especially as the profession grew ever less tolerant of his intricate armchair prose. There were some legitimate counter-points about the internal consistency of his own theory of decision-making which he simply did not convincingly address, but he certainly tried his best. He remained defiantly unempirical in the sense that conventionally trained economists would understand the term. Writing another theoretical book with even more detail was never the way to turn the battle. The intuitive insights will remain and some bursts of poetry will continue to engage; most of us achieve rather less than this. Boettinger in a strange way may have achieved more relative to his humbler ambition. His message to his discipline was gentler and easier to digest, and his articles could be read with a friendly interest and acceptance today. His audience were managers who were not such stem or puritan judges. Those in the management discipline still do not generally perceive themselves as successful practitioners of a unified rigorous science in the style of Frederick Winslow Taylor.
It is perhaps inconsistent to expect an individualist and a subjectivist to leave a solid school behind him. He could only leave friends. But an institution has a mass and inertia beyond the sum of its members, and Shackle shied from seeing either necessity or beauty in building one. Being part of a university was enough to participate in the project of science. Boettinger was at home in a corporation where he had autonomous space protected by walls that seemed forever secure. Both knew that foreknowledge was impossible. Neither man put method above meaning. Neither put expedience above principle.
Shackle and Boettinger communicated in the domain of prose and culture; their exchanges did not relate to pinning down academic and technical details. And we do not know what was exchanged in their private conversations when Boettinger finally could visit and later reside in England. Shackle would soon have agreed, I feel, with what Boettinger felt immediately:
I experienced one of those rare moments when we feel that total communication has taken place with a kindred mind. (Boettinger to Shackle, 10 Aug. 1967, Boettinger Letters, Add. 8817)
And Boettinger hoped to live in the glow of the ideal that Shackle described:
To be free is breath itself. But would life be a keen invigorating air if it did not release the poet's splendour of words and the painter's tide of colour, and encourage the mathematician's web of gossamer entailment and even the business man's enterprise and ambition? (Boettinger to Shackle, 9 June 1978, Shackle Papers, 2/28/1; also in Littlechild 2000:351)
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(1) The GLS Shackle Papers are held at Cambridge University Library (Add. MS 7669). Where applicable, the materials in the Shackle collection are identified simply according to the box, file and item number respectively (e.g., 26/19/2). Some folders have sub-folders; for example, 9/4ii. Not every item in a box is numbered or contained in a file. Some items are clippings without full details of page numbers and so on. Extra material (Add. 8817) was presented by Boettinger in 1989, letters mostly between Shackle and Henry Boettinger 1967-1989 (with some duplication in Shackle's papers). This 'extra' material, as a sub-set of the Shackle Papers, is specifically cited as the Boettinger Letters.
(2) In the article 'An Engineering Education: Help or Hindrance to the Modern Manager?', The Western Electric Engineer, Boettinger observed that 'engineer' derives from ingenuity (ingenieur), not engine. (9/2/21, further details not noted).
(3) He was a director (of corporate planning) at AT&T in 1975 during court action regarding its controversial break up (see Littlechild 2000: 350).
(4) As a career postscript: 'I retired to England in 1977 thanks to my English wife. My wife edits the Village Gazette, and I print it. [Shackle was touched to receive a copy.] I play cello in the Bude [Cornwall] Symphony. In 1995, I was runner-up in the UK's Mastermind TV program [he also appeared in 1988]. 1 enjoy painting, writing about the history of technology, music groups, golf, and snooker' (Johns Hopkins Magazine, Alumni Notes, Feb. 2003).
(5) Boettinger's writings include 'The Place of Automation in History', Data Processing 2 1960: 22; 'Big Gap in Economic Theory', Harvard Business Review, July-August 1967; 'Is Management Really an Art?', Harvard Business Review, January-February 1975, as based on a lecture delivered in 1974 to the Oxford Centre for Management Studies, Oxford University, when he was a visiting fellow; 'Mental architecture and approaches to decision', Oxford Centre for Management Studies, May 1974; Moving Mountains; or The Art and Craft of Letting Others See Things Your Way, New York: Macmillan, 1969; and The Telephone Book: Bell, Watson, Vail and American Life, 1876 1976, Croton-on-Hudson NY: Riverwood, 1977, of which Shackle (3 June 1975, 19/9/4) commented that it possessed 'some phrases which touch the heights of our language ... This book will be a classic treatise of the human condition'.
(6) This was Shackle's Expectations, Enterprise andProfit (1970:8). Shackle does not cite any of Boettinger's publications. He certainly did not follow what nowadays (for better or worse) is the standard procedure of extensive citation. Conspicuously, Shackle did not position his contributions within a larger secondary literature. Boettinger's writings may have provided morale-boosting corroboration in so far as it confirmed that he was on a pathway leading to insights that practical business executives found valuable, but I have no direct textual evidence for a strong claim that a specific point made by Shackle stems directly and uniquely from Boettinger. They were swimmers in the same stream, and they were friends who admired each other's intellectual writings.
(7) As an example Shackle writes 'Dear Henry, Your letter fills the sails of my thoughts and my spirits surge up like a tide' (9 Sept. 1977, Boettinger Letters, Add. 8817/23). It appears Shackle's compassion was readily extended and, as Geoff Harcourt has suggested to me, it reflects a kind nature and a gentle Christianity. Indeed, his correspondents often felt drawn into fulsome reciprocation.
(8) In this respect Littlechild is right when he writes:
Shackle's responses to all these admirers were invariable [sic] warm. Often he spoke of the satisfaction their letters brought him: a computer word-count might identify 'intense happiness' as a frequent single phrase. He was clearly gratified to find others of like mind when his own position was such a lonely one. (2000: 329)
(9) Reviewing Expectation in Economics (1949), in which Shackle presents his method of reducing a decision's complexity to the consideration of the two relatively favourable and unfavourable focus outcomes, the unidentified 'JRC' wrote in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society (1949, CXII, Pt. III: 342-3) respectfully, but cagily: 'The analysis results in a number of highly original conceptions, some of which may well become standard tools of economic thought when the academic world is familiar with them... The resultant ease with which the essentials of a complicated mental state can be assimilated is of great assistance to further analysis'. This fusion of a conciseness in mathematics and the concentration of meaning associated with poetry would have been what Shackle was striving for. But the reviewer was intent on defending the standard method of mathematical expectation: 'I believe that the human mind has its own peculiar way of performing what amounts to an approximate integration of the various possible outcomes of an enterprise, each modified by the enterpriser's view of its likelihood'.
(10) In an oration at a ceremony at the University of Liverpool honouring Shackle with a Doctorate of Social Science, Professor R.F. Willets stated: 'For nearly half a century he has courageously pursued his own vision, a vision which his contemporaries had to acknowledge but could not entirely share. Now, at last--how rewarding for him--economists increasingly realise the vital role which his themes of imagination and choice must play in economic theory, and its relevance in the applied study of economic situations' (Recorder, 1978, no. 78 (Oct.)). These were kind words, but the rational expectations revolution and monetarist policy were already pressing hard against the core of Shackle's world view.
(11) In view of its ongoing praise (on the web, and including by Drucker on the original cover flap: 9/2/6b), it is surprising this work is out of print. The 1969 edition was published by Macmillan, and Collier reprinted it in 1989.
(12) Lewis (1967) complained that he discussed his own views without the lucid elementary exposition he uses to explain the views of others.
(13) See Shackle to Boettinger letter, 15 July 1974, Shackle Papers, 9/4/, cited by Littlechild (2000: 344).
(14) I can recommend that historians of thought read the entire piece but I single out his wartime anecdote about why a sabre is curved. There are many other tidbits, such as the notion that imminent military defeat makes us 'surprisingly amenable to new ideas' (1967: 53-5).
(15) Shackle's approach 'might give administrators some hint of what to be prepared for in the immediate short term and allow them to devise and re-direct what the Shell planners would call a 'resilient' policy. After all, I suppose all evidence and all theory, short of pure axiomatic abstraction, are essentially suggestive. Why should we not write this into the 'subjectivist manifesto'?' (Littlechild 2000: 350).
(16) I am referring mostly to his writings on decision-making, probability, possibility and surprise. His questions were met with fascination and regard, but his answers and solutions were rejected as internally unconvincing or too disruptive of the wider research program. Shackle never responded adequately to his critics who posed awkward counter-examples and puzzles (see, for example, Carter 1950). The debate went around in circles. For decades Shackle reformulated how he expressed his core ideas in the hope of finding the magical wording that would persuade his critics.
(17) In an interview Shackle stated that 'I can't really believe in the idea of steady improvement, you know. After all, some of these men, they're very clever entrepreneurs, are not working together, they're trying to undermine each other's positions, they're working against each other and trying to outdo each other' (Ebeling 1983: 6). In a Kirznerian way, Ebeling had spoken optimistically of market coordination as opportunities are found and exploited. Shackle responds in a Schumpeterian manner, though not in the context of titans and heroes. Progress may be unsteady as destruction and frustration accompany creation and success.
(18) Shackle admitted to Boettinger 'that missing piece [from life] has been music. 1 had no musical education, and, it must be said, no ear' (Shackle to Boettinger, 16 Jan. 1980, Boettinger Letters, Add. 8817/25ii).
Bruce Littleboy *
* School of Economics, University of Queensland, St Lucia Campus, 4072, Australia. Email: email@example.com. I thank the staff of Cambridge University Library for their assistance and courtesy in my navigation of the GLS Shackle Papers.
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|Publication:||History of Economics Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2012|
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