1961 to date: Post-Robbins and the 'Americanisation' of Economics

The retirement of Lionel Robbins in 1961 led to some confusion over who would replace him as the head of the Department and, observing this as a very junior member of staff, I saw some similarity with the situation in Russia after the death of Stalin. However, the situation was quickly resolved, as the School introduced a system of Convenors, in which Heads of Department would serve for a three-year term and the post would rotate around the department. Thus, a Robbins Era would not occur again.

The first convenor of the Economics Department was Ely Devons (1913-1967). He had listened to the younger economists and set about modernising the Department. Many of the senior professors were retiring and Ely was able to persuade Frank Hahn (1925 - 2013) and Terence Gorman (1923 - 2003) to come to LSE, which then attracted other leading economists to come, such as Harry Johnson (1923-1977), Michio Morishima (1923-2004) and many others. The pressure from Bill Phillips and Jim Durbin to develop Econometrics led to the appointment of Rex Bergstrom (1925 - 2005) and Denis Sargan (1924 - 1996) in 1963 and his research, together with the remarkable Ph.D. students he taught (such as David Hendry (1944 - ), Peter Phillips (1948 - ) and many others) meant that within a few years LSE had moved from having virtually no Econometrics to having the leading group of econometricians in the UK.

The other important work that Devons set in train was to professionalise (or ‘Americanise’) Economics. For example, Robbins and many of his generation had been of the view that an academic didn’t really need more than First Class Honours in an undergraduate degree to become an academic. I benefitted from this assumption, as in 1960 when I graduated with First Class Honours in the B.Sc. (Econ.), having specialised in Statistics and Mathematics, I was immediately appointed an Assistant Lecturer in Economics. As at that time, my only formal training in Economics were one-year Intermediate Level courses in Microeconomics and Macroeconomics, my struggles proved a painful exception to the Robbins view!

The MSc degree at that time was seen by many as suitable for a graduate student who had started on a Ph.D. and wasn’t going to make it. The M.Sc. consisted of a less demanding thesis and an examination set on the area in which the thesis was based. The new M.Sc. initially had no thesis and consisted of four written examinations. Soon after this new degree was introduced, the minimum requirement for academic employment in Economics at LSE was no longer an undergraduate degree, but the M.Sc.

Next came the PhD, with moves to introduce coursework, in the form of the new M.Sc., as the first year of registration for a Ph.D. in Economics at LSE. Then, after a battle with the University of London was the relaxation of the need to write a single 75,000-word thesis and move towards presenting a number of shorter pieces of work. I have called this process ‘Americanisation’ as after the ‘reform’ of the Ph.D. to a more American Ph.D. structure, it became the norm to require a Ph.D. for appointment to the staff of the Economics Department at LSE. Harry Johnson gave great support to these developments, but was disappointed by the resistance to the changes both within LSE and the University of London. Eli Devons became very ill and died in 1967. He was sorely missed and it is important that his work in the post-Robbins development of the Economics Department should be recognised.

Another major change in the post-Robbins period has been the structure of research in Economics. During the first two eras outlined above, most researchers would be working alone, or at most with one or two collaborators. The foundation of the large research centres, such as the Centre for Economic Performance, the Financial Markets Group and the centres grouped within STICERD (in whose founding Michio Morishima played an important role), has seen many researchers now working in groups, with much more support and better resources than in earlier times. This has also improved life for Ph.D. students, who are often involved in large research programmes.

Given the expansion of the numbers in the Economics Department and those working in the research centres, there are a large number of economists at LSE. The range of teaching and research being carried out is too extensive to be discussed in a short account such as this. To summarise, one may say that in the Post-Robbins period, the Economics Department, together with the research centres, have expanded and developed into one of the leading centres for Economics in the UK and in the World.

Suggested Reading


References to the Economics Department and individual economists are threaded through Dahrendorf (1995), as a diligent examination of the index will reveal. Cord (2018a) contains thematic chapters concerning the Economics Department and biographical chapters on economists from all three periods.

Devons (1970) contains a selection of his writings and ‘Ely Devons: A Memoir’, contributed by Alec Cairncross.

For biographical information, see (Hanahan and Neary 2003) on Terrence Gorman, (Moggridge 2011) on Harry Johnson and (Matsuyama (2018) on Michio Morishima.

The rapid development of Econometrics from virtually zero to its leading position is well documented. Gilbert (1986 and 1989) provides contextual information; Sargan (2003) looks back on 30 years of rhe development of Econometrics at LSE and Hendry (2003) trace Sargan’s contribution to the origins of the process. There are interviews with Rex Bergstrom (Phillips 1988a), Denis Sargan (Phillips 1985) and David Hendry (Eriksson 2004). Finally, Spanos (2014) recalls what it was like as a student during this process of development.

It is more difficult to provide reading suggestions for the process of ‘Americanisation’ / Professionalisation that took place at LSE, as much of the action took place in committee meetings and through communications with the University of London. The discussion of Harry Johnson’s time at LSE in Moggridge (2011) does provide some material and it is scattered through Dahrendorf (1995). While Coats (1993a) is a more general history of the ‘professionalization’ in the USA and the UK, some of the trends in the USA were later followed at LSE.


Please click on the button for a detailed list of references.

  • Coats, A.W. (1993a) The Sociology and Professionalization of Economics: British and Americal Economic Essays, (London: Routledge).
  • Cord, R.A. (Ed.) (2018a) The Palgrave Companion to LSE Economics, (London: Palgrave Macmillan).
  • Dahrendorf, R. (1995) A History of the London School of Economics and Political Science 1895—1995, (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
  • Devons, E. Planning and Economic Management, (Manchester: Manchester University Press).
  • Eriksson, N.R. (2004) ‘The ET Interview: Professor David F. Hendry’, Econometric Theory, Vol. 20, 743-804.
  • Gilbert, C.L. (1986) ‘Professor Hendry’s Econometric Methodology’, Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Vol. 48, No. 3, 283-307.
  • Gilbert, C.L. (1989) ‘LSE and the British Approach to Time Series Econometrics’, Oxford Economic Papers, Vol. 41, 108-28.
  • Hanahan, P. and J.P. Neary (2003) ‘W.M. Gorman (1923 – 2003)’, The Economic and Social Review, Vol. 34, No. 2, Summer/Autumn, pp. 195-209.
  • Hendry, D.F. (2003) ‘J. Denis Sargan and the Origins of LSE Econometric Methodology’, Econometric Theory, Vol. 19, (June), 457-80.
  • Matsuyama, N. (2018) ‘Michio Morishima (1923-2004)’, Chapter 26 in Cord (2018a).
  • Moggridge, D.E. (2011) Harry Johnson: A Life in Economics, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
  • Phillips, P.C.B. (1985) ‘The ET Interview: Professor J.D. Sargan, Economic Theory, Vol. 1 (January), 119-39.
  • Phillips, P.C.B. (1988a) ‘The ET Interview: Professor Rex Bergstrom’, Economic Theory, Vol. 4 (April), 125-57.
  • Sargan, J.D. (2003) ‘The Development of Econometrics at LSE in the Last 30 Years’, Economic Theory, Vol. 19, (June), 429-38.
  • Spanos, A. (2014) ‘Reflections on the LSE Tradition in Econometrics: a Student’s Perspective’, Economia, Vol. 4, No. 3, 343-380.