Douglas Strachan, 1945-2017

Policeman-turned-economist who spent a decade in Africa remembered

September 21, 2017
Douglas Strachan

A leading development economist who started his working life as a policeman has died.

Douglas Strachan was born in Glasgow in September 1945 and studied at the Shawlands Academy. Although he was a talented pupil, he often got into trouble outside school and his father attempted to impose discipline by making him choose between enlisting in the army and the police. He opted for training at Tulliallan Police College and spent six years on the beat, first with Renfrew and Bute Constabulary and then the City of Glasgow Police.

Police work soon revealed in Dr Strachan an unusually scholarly temperament that spurred him to track down obscure pieces of legislation in the library as a way of bringing criminals to justice, for example in a case involving the nuisance caused by blasting operations. He therefore decided to return to formal education at Langside College in Glasgow and went on to a degree in economics at the University of Strathclyde (1974).

Here Dr Strachan’s abilities were rapidly spotted, so he was taken on as a research fellow at the David Livingstone Institute – well known for its work in development economics – and embarked on a PhD. This led to a decade in Africa. He was a lecturer in economics at the Haile Selassie I University in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (1975-77) and then senior research fellow at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana (1978-81). A further post saw him acting as an adviser to the Ghanaian government on its development strategy (1982-84).

Even while based in Africa, Dr Strachan kept returning between assignments to the David Livingstone Institute and, in 1987, he took a permanent job at Strathclyde as lecturer (later senior lecturer) in economics. He went on to serve, from 1994, as senior adviser of studies at the institution’s business school until he officially retired in 2003, although he was re-engaged on teaching contracts and also continued with his research.

Deeply informed by his experiences of working in Africa, Dr Strachan’s publications were never afraid to challenge received wisdom. He was highly critical of the so-called Washington Consensus – the idea that free markets are the key to successful development – and made an eloquent case for selective state intervention in areas such as technology transfer. He also argued that, far from operating with smooth efficiency, financial markets often swung between periods of excessive exuberance and periods of panic, and so needed not deregulation but effective regulation.

Dr Strachan died of pneumonia on 1 August and is survived by his wife, Ellen, a daughter, a son and five grandchildren.

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