MIT. Three Kindleberger quips à la Solow, 1990
In an earlier post we encountered a second-order quote from the Columbia economic historian Vladimir G. Simkhovitch–Frank Fisher quoting Charles Kindleberger quoting Simkhovitch. Today we have some first-order hearsay of Charles Kindleberger from witness Robert M. Solow, his MIT colleague. Kindleberger wit with a Solow twist! In the court of history hearsay evidence is of course admissible after being critically received. On behalf of former, present, and future graduate students of the world, I call the reader’s attention to the second of the three Kindlebergian remarks.
TRAVELS WITH CHARLIE
That was actually the name of a book that John Steinbeck wrote, all about driving around the country with his dog. The P in CPK does not stand for Poodle. But I like the title, and so will Charlie. I just want to rummage around in my memory.
There should be some permanent record of the time that Charlie and I were part of a panel discussion before an audience. Some question about exchange rates came up, and I spoke my piece. I must have said something wrong, because Charlie broke in to say: “The audience should keep in mind that MIT does not pay Professor Solow to think about international economics.” Bad dog!
Here is another unforgettable shaft. I can not remember the occasion; I think that some of our graduate students were expressing discontent with their lot and suggesting improvements. Charlie summed up the situation by pointing out that fundamentally a graduate student was someone with a boy’s income and a man’s appetite. Of course they felt better immediately. (By the way, the gender-specificness of that remark was just the empirical truth of the time.)
Finally I want to preserve a conversation that took place about 10 years ago when the Kindlebergers, the Samuelsons, the Solows, and Ingo and Barbara Vogelsang were dinner guests of the McFaddens. German economists were mentioned and Ingo Vogelsang asked if anyone remembered George Halm. Ingo thought that must now be very old. Oh no, said Charlie, mature maybe but certainly not what you would describe as old. You’re right, said Paul. What’s old about 80? It seemed funnier to me then than it does now. Now it’s just a home truth: what’s so old about 80? Not a thing, not if you have been, as Charlie has been, devoted to his colleagues and his students, and full of ideas, always full of ideas.
Robert M. Solow
Source: Letter from Robert M. Solow included in Reminiscences of Charles P. Kindleberger on his Eightieth Birthday, October 12, 1990 in the Charles P. Kindleberger Papers, Box 24, MIT Libraries, Institute Archives and Special Collections.
Image Source: Charles Kindleberger in MIT Technique, 1950.