Obituary: Professor E. T. Nevin (CORRECTED)

Click to follow
The Independent Online
CORRECTION (PUBLISHED 23 SEPTEMBER 1992) APPENDED TO THIS ARTICLE

Edward Thomas Nevin, economist, born Pembroke Dock 5 February 1925, Lecturer in Economics UCW Aberystwyth 1952-63, Professor of Economics 1963-68, Professor of Economics University College Swansea 1968-85, Research Professor Department of Management Science and Statistics 1985-90, died Swansea 11 September 1992.

E. T. NEVIN was a first-class academic economist, an outstanding university teacher and an admirable human being. He was a tough character in the best sense of the word. He was tough intellectually as well as morally, uncompromising in the expression and defence of his opinions, resolute in the quest for truth, implacably hostile to what he believed to be pretentious and spurious; unwavering in his support of his principles and contemptuous of all actions which smacked of expediency.

His origins were relatively humble, for his father, after being discharged from the Army through ill-health, settled in Pembroke Dock, where he worked in the dockyard for the rest of his life, experiencing periods of unemployment and hardship during the 1920s and 1930s. But he was a tough character too and survived all his trials and tribulations to become Mayor of Pembroke Dock, an achievement of which his son was rightly proud.

After leaving school at the age of 16 to work in the Ministry of Aircraft Production and later to serve in the Army, Edward Thomas ('Ted') Nevin entered the University College of Wales Aberystwyth in 1946 to read economics and graduated with first-class Honours in 1949. His interest in monetary economics began when he was appointed to a Research Studentship and instructed by his head of department to undertake a study of the gilt-edged market. This occurred because the latter had bumped into Nevin - as he told one with a wicked twinkle in his eye - after he had been savaged by the College Investment Committee for recommending the purchase of 2 1/2 per cent Consols at the height of Hugh Dalton's drive for cheap money.

This laid the foundation for his postgraduate work at Cambridge on Britain's Cheap Money policy in the 1930s which culminated in his book The Mechanism of Cheap Money - the standard work on the period. His experience of being a Cambridge Ph D student tested his moral toughness, for he suddenly found himself in an unfamiliar milieu with a wife and a new baby and, as he once confessed to me, 'uncomfortably aware of the grave deficiencies in his economics training'. Nevin's response was typical, for he did not turn to counselling for help but buckled down to the task of improving his mathematical and quantitative techniques and completing his Ph D thesis in two years. He then returned to Aberystwyth as a Lecturer, much better equipped to pursue a rigorous approach to economic analysis, and after various spells away with the OECD, the Ministry of Finance in Jamaica and Economic Research Institute in Dublin, he was appointed to a Chair in Economics in 1963 - at the same time as myself. We spent four years together there establishing a new degree course; for me this was a most rewarding liaison.

After his Cambridge experience Ted Nevin remained, both in his research and teaching, firmly opposed to lack of rigour. He believed that it had allowed the economics profession to fall individually into sloppy modes of thought in which we had lost sight of the overriding need in any scientific discipline to remember that if one analysis has no prospect of generating propositions cast in a variable form and testable against empirical evidence from the real work to which they purport to apply, then there is at least a presumption that we have no business to be meddling in the subject matter in question.

In addition to his commitment to rigour his second guiding principle was that economics should be useful in those areas in which its application was appropriate. In a letter to me he wrote that

the emphasis in our work and, more especially in our teaching, must shift a great distance away from the spurious, pretentious indulging in recommendations over vast, political areas for which our present competence simply does not equip us and towards empirically better-informed investigation of narrowly defined copies and problems in which there is at least some prospect of modest success.

He was as good as his word and produced a stream of excellent work on monetary economics, the Welsh economy and, more recently, on the economics of European integration - nine books and 52 articles. His belief in making useful contributions led him to undertake a wide range of tasks including acting as Economic Adviser to the Police Federation, deputy chairman of various Wages Councils, in addition to many posts of professional responsibility. Mention must also be made of his subsidiary career as a broadcaster which extended over 35 years and enabled him to indulge in witty, sardonic comments on the world as he saw it to a wider audience.

I salute a man of many, exceptional talents who made a distinctive contribution in so many spheres but I am sure that he would most like to be remembered as a university teacher who conceived of his task as being 'to open up the mind, to correct it, to refine it, to enable it to know'.

CORRECTION

The typesetting of the obituary of Professor E. T. Nevin (by Professor George Clayton, 21 September) fell short of its subject's own rigour. Four errors occurred. In the passage 'sloppy modes of thought in which we had lost sight of the overriding need in any scientific discipline to remember that if one analysis has no prospect of generating propositions cast in a variable form and testable against empirical evidence from the real work . . .', for one read our, for variable read verifiable and for work read world. Later, for copies read topics.

Professor Nevin is survived by his wife, six children and three stepchildren.

Comments