Wynne Godley, 1926-2010


June 10, 2010

A famously pessimistic economist who became one of the government's "six wise men" after giving up a career as a professional oboist has died.

Wynne Godley was born in London on 2 September 1926, the second son of the future Lord Kilbracken.

He was educated at Ashdown House preparatory school and then Rugby, interspersed with long holidays on the family's Irish estate. He went on to study philosophy, politics and economics at New College, Oxford, where he was deeply influenced by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin, and graduated with a first in 1947.

Despite his academic talents, Professor Godley pursued his passion for music by going to the Paris Conservatoire de Musique and playing in the BBC National Orchestra of Wales before an attack of nerves led him in 1954 to make a remarkable switch and become an economist for the Metal Box Company.

From there he moved to the Economics Section of the Treasury and worked there from 1956 to 1970, becoming deputy director in 1967. He soon became established as a key member of the team and played a central role in the devaluation of the pound in 1967.

Although highly successful, Professor Godley was something of a troubled soul who sometimes felt he was "going about the world in a waking dream".

He wrote a vivid account of his childhood, where an overly possessive mother and an alcoholic father left him to be brought up by "nannies and governesses, as well as by a fierce maiden aunt who shook me violently when I cried".

He also recalled how his middle years had been "severely blemished" by "a disastrous encounter with psychoanalysis".

In 1970, Professor Godley transferred to the academy, becoming a Fellow of King's College, Cambridge and director of the department of planned economics, where he gained a professorship 10 years later.

Despite serving as a member of the Treasury's Panel of Independent Forecasters, generally known as the "six wise men", from 1992 to 1995, he was fiercely critical of government economic policy from the days of Edward Heath to Gordon Brown, and predicted the credit crunch.

He was also the co-author, with Marc Lavoie, of Monetary Economics: An Integrated Approach to Credit, Money, Income, Production and Wealth (2007), which is now being reprinted.

In 1955, Professor Godley married Kitty, daughter of the sculptor Jacob Epstein. The artist used him as a model for his work St Michael Defeating Satan.

He died on 13 May and is survived by his wife and their daughter Eve.


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