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Further tributes to Professor Nick Crafts

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Further tributes to Professor Nick Crafts

  • The Department is deeply saddened by the passing of Professor Nick Crafts, who died on 6 October 2023 after a long illness.
  • Nick was a brilliant economist and one of the world’s leading economic historians, who will leave an enduring legacy. He was also the founding Director of the CAGE Research Centre.
  • A book of condolence was opened for any colleagues who wished to share reflections or memories.
  • Tributes are shared below, and also here.

Stephen Broadberry, Bishnupriya Gupta, Tim Hatton and Tim Leunig write about their colleague and friend:

Nick Crafts was the most distinguished British economic historian of his generation. He was born in 1949 at Nottingham, England and educated at Trinity College Cambridge, where he graduated as the top student in the Economics Tripos in 1970. After just a year of graduate studies he took a lectureship at Exeter before moving to Warwick in 1972 and then on to University College Oxford in 1977, where he was lecturer and praelector. He became professor of economics at Leeds from 1989 to 1995 and then professor of economic history at the LSE from 1995 to 2005 after which he returned to Warwick until his retirement in 2019.

Nick was an early observer of the Cliometrics Revolution that was sweeping across the United States at the time of his visiting assistant professorship at Berkeley, and he was one of the pioneers in applying the approach in Europe, establishing an annual Quantitative Economic History Conference in Britain. He established a worldwide reputation on the basis of important contributions in many areas of economic history, but perhaps his most important and far-reaching work was his radical reinterpretation of the First Industrial Revolution, which occurred in Britain between the mid-eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries and marks the first transition to sustained economic growth. As such, it lies right at the heart of the discipline of economic history.

His path-breaking book, British Economic Growth during the Industrial Revolution , first published in 1985 and reprinted 4 times, presented a radically different view of the Industrial Revolution as a more gradual process than previously believed. This book also set the British experience firmly in a European context, an important methodological contribution, which continues to affect the way that European economic history is written today. Crafts demonstrated convincingly that earlier writers had exaggerated the growth rate of industrial production and hence of total national output during the Industrial Revolution. From this he was able to demonstrate that the British economy must have been richer and more developed in 1700 than previously thought. As well as dramatically changing our view of the Industrial Revolution itself, this view also cast an entirely new light on earlier periods of economic history. If Britain was already quite developed on the eve of the Industrial Revolution, then this opened up the possibility of earlier episodes of growth and development, and encouraged a whole new wave of research on early modern and medieval economic history, the effects of which are still being felt in the discipline to this day.

He later made important contributions to our understanding of the development of the British economy from the late nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth century. Much of this work is summarised in his book Forging Ahead, Falling Behind and Fighting Back British Economic Growth from the Industrial Revolution to the Financial Crisis (CUP 2019). With an endogenous growth framework in the background he stressed that the potential for growth varies widely, both across countries and over time, so that slow growth in in one era may represent better performance, relative to potential than another. Key elements in achieving or falling short of potential are the effects of the institutional environment on incentive structures for innovation and investment.

Within this framework he argued that British growth faltered rather than failed in the late nineteenth century and that growth potential was greater in the United States due to its large market size and a configuration of its factor endowments that favoured directed technological change in progressive sectors. The two World Wars were major setbacks and, although from 1950 to 1973 the British economy grew faster than ever, it fell short of its potential. This was partly a penalty of the early start and partly the result of polices, which from the 1930s onwards, included tariff protection, a complicated tax system with high marginal tax rates, the nationalisation of large swathes of industry and misdirected R&D effort. Although growth subsequently slowed, relative to potential, economic performance improved due to three key elements. One was the reforms undertaken by the Thatcher governments (1979-90) that included tax reform, industrial deregulation and privatisation of state enterprises and the reduction of the power of trade unions. Another was the rapid adoption of ICT. And the third, stressed elsewhere in his work, was the competition-enhancing effect of Britain’s membership of the EU from 1973.

Nick was a masterful lecturer. In his lectures he dissected often conflicting and confusing literatures to provide a clear analytical roadmap for students with limited economics. Unlike many, he wanted to give big first year lectures that most faculty try to avoid. As well as lecturing his own students, Nick gave many other talks, ranging from visiting American students, to public lectures, to groups in the City. No matter the group, he would always describe attendees as "punters". They had paid in time, and sometimes in money, to hear him speak, and as such he always took his responsibilities to them seriously. He set high standards for those attending, as well as for himself. After a lecture on the Gold Standard he remarked "The punters didn't like that one. They never do. But you can't say you have studied economic history if you don't know how the Gold Standard worked." Nick was, as many former students can testify, a Gold Standard lecturer.

Nick was very heavily involved in economic policy throughout his career, and was unrivalled in the way that he used economic history to inform his policy conclusions. He was a Research Fellow at the Centre for Economic Policy Research from 1985, serving as Director of the Human Resources Since 1900 Programme between 1989 and 1991. From 2010 until his retirement in 2019, Nick was the founding Director of CAGE, an ESRC-funded research centre at Warwick. In recognition of his achievements he received many high honours. He was elected to a Fellowship of the British Academy at the young age of 43 and in the Queen’s Birthday Honours of 2014 he was appointed Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for services to economics. He also served as President of the Economic History Society, President of the Royal Economic Society, and was Fellow of the Economic History Association and Fellow of the Cliometric Society.

Nick’s retirement from Warwick in 2019 was marked by a gathering of the great and the good for a two-day soirée that included keynote lectures and research presentations by many of Nick’s former graduate students, now distinguished academics in their own right. After retiring from Warwick Nick moved to a part-time position at Sussex, where he continued to teach and research. Sadly, his retirement was all too brief and he died on 6th October 2023 after a lengthy illness. Over 50 years of energetic teaching and research he reshaped British economic history and hugely influenced generations of economic historians. He will be sadly missed.

Individual tributes follow:-

Professor Bart van Ark, Professor of Productivity Studies at the Alliance Manchester Business School (AMBS) at the University of Manchester, writes:

Nick was a great intellectual, scholar and teacher in economic history. Amongst his many contributions to the profession, Nick has been instrumental in helping the academic and policy communities around the world better understand the importance of productivity for long-term economic growth. His numerous articles, books and contributions to conference, workshops and seminars, on the topic have left a long-lasting mark on work at the Groningen Growth and Development Center, The Productivity Institute and that of many others. Personally, I have much enjoyed co-editing with him the volume on Quantitative Aspects of Post-War European Economic Growth (1996), as part of two-year long project by the CEPR during the 1990s. He will be dearly missed.

Professor Sir Charles Bean, Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics, writes:

Nick was an erstwhile colleague at LSE, an occasional co-author, but a long-time friend whose wit and wisdom will be sorely missed by us all. I feel honoured to have known him.

Dr. David Bholat writes:

Professor Crafts was an iconic economic historian. I had the pleasure of making his acquaintance while at the Bank of England. He very kindly accepted an invitation to participate in a seminar on the interwar gold standard. More recently, he participated in another conference on AI. In both instances, these seminar contributions resulted in peer-reviewed publications for which I was the editor. As these examples indicate, Professor Craft's intellectual range was vast. He wrote clearly and persuasively, combining a fine-tuned analytical framework with detailed fidelity to empirical data. He will be missed, but he will continue to powerfully shape generations of scholars to come.

Professor Jutta Bolt, Professor of Global Economic History, University of Groningen, writes:

I'm truly sorry to hear about the passing of Nick Crafts, one of the world's most prominent economic historians. His contributions to our understanding of economic development and history were invaluable. His work will continue to inspire and educate generations to come. My deepest condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues during this difficult time.

Fiona Brown CAGE Research Manager until 2019, writes:

I worked with Nick for 10 years or so on CAGE. They were good times. He was an inspiring director who, together with Sascha, had the foresight to develop CAGE into a leading ESRC research centre. A kind and thoughtful man who always had time to listen and encourage. I am so sorry to hear of his death and send my condolences to Barbara and his family. RIP Nick.

Dame Frances Cairncross, Chair of the CAGE Advisory Board, writes:

Nick Crafts was one of the most thoughtful and innovative economists of the past half century. His work to unite history with economics gave his work a depth and originality that few economists of his generation achieved. Warwick was lucky to have him for as long as it did.

Professor David Chambers, Invesco Professor of Finance at Cambridge Judge Business School, writes:

Nick was inspirational as a teacher, PhD supervisor and co-author. You always knew you had to be on your game when you were interacting with him. He was also incredible good fun away from work - to share a pint with and talk about cricket. I will forever be grateful for the time he invested in me and the encouragement he gave me to pursue my academic career.

Alison Cottrell, CB, writes:

Nick was a great teacher and a great person; he brought economics, past and present, to life, and will be really missed by so many people. Sending thoughts and condolences to all of Nick's family at this very sad time.

Mandy Eaton writes:

Nick was a fantastic colleague who I worked with for many years. My condolences go to Barbara and his family.

Harald Edquist, Master Researcher, Macroeconomics at Ericsson Research, Stockholm, writes:

I was most saddened to hear of Nick Crafts passing. I met Nick Crafts the first time at a conference in Groningen. We shared the interest of understanding how major technologies affect productivity development. It was always interesting to listening to him and he had a great sense of British humour. My deepest sympathy goes to his family.

Professor Peter J Hammond writes:

Nick's extensive publications make him a giant in economic history, with special emphasis on Britain and Europe. But not being a historian myself, I was much less aware of the details than I should have been. Around the time when I arrived at Warwick in 2007, Nick was an Associate Chair of the department. He was also working hard on securing funding for CAGE, as he was about to become its founding director. Like many, perhaps even most members of the department, CAGE has helped finance some of my research. From 2006 to 2009 he chaired Section S2 (Economics and Economic History) of the British Academy which, from my personal experience, he left in very good shape when he stepped down. Of course, I met Nick frequently until he moved to Sussex quite recently. He always greeted me with a broad smile that was usually followed by some light hearted and enjoyable conversation. So, while others will properly recognize the excellent quality and quantity of Nick's academic output, including his prolific lecturing activity, my main awareness of Nick stems from his tremendous contributions as an administrator. There he seemed to achieve some sort of ideal where the important things got done, and done very well, with no doubt a lot of work on his part, but with almost no fuss that was discernible by those not directly involved. Nick, you have finally completed all your administrative burdens; may you rest in peace.

Professor Richard Harris, Professor of Economics, Durham University, writes:

I knew Nick for many years, and especially enjoyed working with him when we were both members of the advisory group for the "Future of Manufacturing" project run by the Government Office for Science/BIS in 2012-13. Not only very knowledgeable but also generous with his time. I am saddened to learn he is no longer with us to collaborate on future work. My condolences to his family and immediate friends; we shall all miss him.

Professor Jonathan Haskel, Professor of Economics at Imperial College Business School, Imperial College, London writes:

Dear Crafts family, I was so sorry to hear of Nick's passing. You will have seen from the messages how much the profession owed him and loved him. He was an inspiration to me and so many others: we shall all miss him very much. I hope you can take some comfort from the memory of such a wonderful man.

Yours, Jonathan

Ben Odams writes:

I met Nick at a fringe event at a party conference a few years ago. His precision and accessible style really hit home on the various topics which were discussed. It inspired me to read more of his work - rediscovering books I had read as undergraduate. He was a classic example of a public intellectual and he will be missed. RIP

Professor Nicole Simpson, W Bradford Wiley Professor of Economics at Colgate University, writes:-

For many decades, Professor Crafts would graciously teach a series of lectures for Colgate University's undergraduate economics students during their study abroad program in London. We were so very fortunate to have a preeminent British economic historian teaching our students each year. He taught generations of our students, often at the very start of their semester in London. We are deeply saddened by his death; his legacy will be long remembered at Colgate.

Dr Christian Soegaard writes:

Dear Nick. It was wonderful to have you as colleague for all these years. Rest in Peace!

Jane Snape CAGE Project Manager, writes:

Nick possessed a remarkable ability to make all team members feel valued. I will miss his knowledge, kindness and sense of humour. My thoughts are with Barbara and family.

Dr Brian Varian, Lecturer in Economics, Newcastle University Business School, writes:

I would like to express my sincere condolence for your loss. I was taught by Professor Crafts when I was a masters student at the London School of Economics. His lectures were as captivating as they were brilliant. As I myself now lecture in economic history, I cannot possibly forget the standard that Professor Crafts set, and I cannot imagine anyone ever really attaining it. When I went on to do my PhD in economic history, Professor Crafts greatly encouraged my research, even when it challenged some of his own—the mark of a real scholar. I am so glad to have known him and to have been in his classroom.

Dr John Geoffrey Walker writes:

I'm so sorry to hear this. He was a lovely man, always pleased to see me, and a great drinking companion. I learned a great deal from him. I've rarely seen him in the last few years but I'll miss him now that I won't see him again.

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