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Sir Bryan Hopkin (1914-2009)

Sir Bryan Hopkin, who was Professor of Economics at Cardiff from 1977-1982, died on October 10 2009. 

Bryan Hopkin was from South Wales, born in December 1914 and educated at Barry Grammar School and St John's College, Cambridge (where he was taught by John Maynard Keynes). He graduated with a first class honours degree and continued his studies at Manchester University before taking the civil service exams in 1938. He not only passed but finished as top entrant, and started his career in the Ministry of Health. 

After the war he worked for the Royal Commission on Population, the economic secretariat at the Cabinet Office and the Central Statistical Office. For five years from 1952 he was director of the National Institute of Social and Economic Research, before serving briefly as secretary of the Council on Prices, Productivity and Incomes. He rejoined the civil service in 1958 as Deputy Director of the Treasury's Economic Section.

During the second half of the 1960s he had a short spell as an economic planner in Mauritius before taking senior positions in the Ministry of Overseas Development and then Department of Economic Affairs. He became Chief Economic Adviser at the Treasury, reporting (after the unexpected Labour election defeat of June 1970) to the Conservative Chancellor Iain Macleod, and following the latter's sudden death to Tony Barber, but left in 1972 for his Chair at Cardiff. It was Denis Healey who persuaded Hopkin to return to his post of Chief Economic Adviser when Labour returned to Government in March 1974. 

The next three years were gruelling, as the Government struggled to turn round the worst external economic position the country had ever faced outside wartime, while simultaneously bringing under control an inflation rate which briefly hit an annual rate of 25%. A combination of incomes policy agreed with the unions, restraint in public expenditure, a competitive exchange rate, industrial modernisation on the basis of co-operation between the government and both sides of industry, and selective import controls, began to turn the position around in 1975-76. The improvement did not however convince the foreign exchange markets, and there was a sterling crisis in the autumn of 1976, which led the Government to turn to the International Monetary Fund for assistance. 

Bryan Hopkin was at the eye of this storm, which almost destroyed the Government as senior Cabinet Ministers rebelled against the terms - drastic public spending cuts - demanded by the IMF in return for financial support for the pound. In the end, Denis Healey and Prime Minister James Callaghan succeeded in negotiating significantly better conditions than had seemed likely, and these were acceptable both to the Cabinet and the Fund. The markets responded well to the IMF's stamp of approval for the Government policies and the position of the country resumed its improvement.

Hopkin returned to the academic world in 1977, as the climate altered for the better. But he did not retreat from public life.  Mrs Thatcher's arrival in Downing Street was followed by an experiment with unashamedly monetarist policies. The proponents of this strategy believed that the repudiation of the Keynesian  political economy characteristic of the post 1945 era in favour of a free market approach would lead to the collapse of the restrictive practices and collectivism which they believed responsible for Britain’s vulnerable economic position. This was regarded with scepticism and increasing alarm by a largely Keynesian economics establishment, of which Hopkin was a leading member. 

When it became apparent in 1980-81 that (as the Keynesians had predicted) the combination of tight monetary policies with austerity in public spending was severely weakening Britain's industrial base, Hopkin emerged as one of Mrs Thatcher's most determined academic critics. In October 1980 he was arguing that cutting rather than spending during a recession would only hit British industry harder. And the following March he was one of 364 economists to issue a statement challenging Mrs Thatcher's policies; she rejected it vigorously. Hopkin persisted with his argument that the economy needed reflation, not deflation; in August 1981 he issued, along with fellow economists Brian Reddaway and Marcus Miller, another plea for a change of strategy by the Conservatives, based on an injection of £6.8 billion to increase demand. 

The call met the same fate as its predecessor, but in fact in 1981-82  a covert reflation was initiated, led not by public spending but by a considerable easing of credit restrictions including the removal of hire purchase controls. It was the start of a period when government sought to expand the economy via the expansion of private sector debt, sustained by rising asset prices.

Giving up his chair in 1982, Hopkin continued criticising the use of monetary policy to bring down inflation, and pressing for "cautious stimuli". He remained an unapologetic Keynesian in retirement, and remained an active participant in seminars and meetings at Cardiff for some years.

Bryan Hopkin was a distinguished representative of a generation of academics who not only remained engaged in public life, but felt it their duty to be so. He believed in the Keynesian ideal that economists should promote policies designed to remove from society the conditions which led to avoidable pain and insecurity for humanity. He served his country with distinction, and was a committed member of staff here, approachable to all, especially students and young colleagues.

Bryan Hopkins was appointed CBE in 1961 and knighted in 1971.

He married, in 1938, Renée Ricour, who died in 2002. He is survived by their two sons.

Scott Newton, School of History and Archaeology

Source: Daily Telegraph obituary, 23 November 2010; personal knowledge