Jubilee Fellow – 2019

Peter Lloyd HR

Professor Peter Lloyd AM

MA (Victoria University of Wellington), PhD (Duke)

Discipline: Economics

Year Elected: 1979

2019 Reflections

First, I must state my gratitude for receiving one of the honours for 40 years of Fellowship in ASSA.  I have not really deserved it.  For the first 4 years of my fellowship, when I lived in Canberra, I attended the meetings but after I moved from the ANU to Melbourne in 1983 I have lapsed.  This was partly due to the pressures of work commitments as a new professor and later Dean.  But it was also due in part, I should confess, to misgivings about the value of attending the meetings.

The essence of the problem for me, and I suspect for some others, is that I had doubts about the value of multi-disciplinary cooperation in the social sciences.  I am an economist who has worked in the mainstream of economics, specializing in international economics and microeconomic theory.  When I became a Fellow the work for which I was best known was the work I carried out jointly with Professor Herbert Grubel, in the then Research School of Pacific Studies.  The subject was intra-industry trade theory; that is, the economic analysis of country specialization in a subset of the final or intermediate products produced by an industry and of consumer choice among these products, the “love of variety” as the Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman called it.  This was a very new subject then but it quickly became a central part of international economics.  Grubel and I constructed a new index, now known as the Grubel-Lloyd Index of Intra-industry Trade, which is still the standard measure of the extent of intra-industry trade.

During the last 40 years of my research career I have sometimes worked in areas of research that overlapped with one or more disciplines outside economics.  The area in which this has occurred most frequently is my work on the regulation of international trade and commerce by the global multilateral bodies such as GATT/WTO, the IMF, the World Bank and the OECD, and by regional trade organisations such as the EU, NAFTA and ASEAN.  There is a constant overlap here between economics and international trade law.  I have attended many conferences and workshops with international trade lawyers.  I have always found this enlightening and I have a great respect for their detailed knowledge of the law and how it works.  But there is a basic difference in the way international lawyers and economists approach problems of law.  International lawyers are devoted to making the existing law work whereas economists are interested in changing law or law enforcement in order to make them fit more closely with what they perceive as the benefits to nations and to the world as a whole.  Representatives of the two disciplines frequently come to different judgements concerning laws or cases prosecuted under the law.

This different focus is one reason why multidisciplinary cooperation is difficult, in some areas at least. A second reason, I believe, is that the product of multidisciplinary research must be published in a journal or other research outlet.  With exceptions in a few areas such as environmental studies, social science journals are organized along discipline lines.  Each discipline has its own conventions regarding content, language and style.  This can be an obstacle to the publication of research results when one wants to reach the widest audience.

Yet, I have recently changed my mind about the virtues of multidisciplinary cooperation. Currently, in the twilight of my career, I am engaged in an ambitious project.  This is a brief history of human economic activity since the appearance of homo sapiens on earth.  I have called this Big Economic History.  It is an area within Big History.  In doing this research I have looked up research by anthropologists, prehistorians and demographers which throws considerable lights on the issues I am examining.  Take a specific example, the growth of total human population over the last 200,000 years or so.  Demographers have naturally led much of this research but they seem unaware of the work of economists in this area.  As a second example, anthropologists have written extensively on the extinction in the Last Ice Age of large mammals such as the mammoth and the mastodon but they too seem unaware of the models of Vernon Smith and other economists in this area.   Of course, it is equally true that economists are usually ignorant of the work of demographers and anthropologists.

Clearly the Academy is ideally placed to promote communication across the social science disciplines. I shall try to mend my ways.