100th birthday of Professor Paul Streeten

Tuesday 18 July

Professor Paul StreetenWe warmly congratulate Professor Paul Streeten (Balliol 1944, Tutorial Fellow in Economics 1948–1966, Professorial Fellow 1968–1978, Honorary Fellow from 1986) and send him our very best wishes on his 100th birthday on 18 July 2017. The Balliol flag was flown on the day in celebration of the occasion.

Professor Paul Streeten

Paul Streeten came up to Balliol as a mature student after war service. After taking a first in PPE, he went on to become first a Lecturer and then a Fellow of the College, inspiring generations of students with his teaching of economics. In the 1960s he worked at the new Ministry of Overseas Development in the UK, before becoming Warden of Queen Elizabeth House in Oxford. He has worked at the World Bank and was involved with the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report and UNESCO’s World Culture Reports, as well as helping to set up and edit the journal World Development in 1972. He has received many awards and other appointments.

Below we publish tributes and recollections from a few of the many people who hold Paul in the highest esteem.

Professor Wilfred Beckerman (Tutor in Economics 1964-69 and 1975-1992, and Emeritus Fellow):

Paul Streeten was a Fellow and Tutor in Economics at Balliol for many years. Old students of his that I have met over the years speak with awe and affection at the way he stimulated their interest in the subject and inspired them with the need to combine analytical rigour with sound judgement if one is to be a really useful applied economist. 

I first met Paul in 1963 and we became firm friends when I became a Fellow of Balliol in 1964. We have kept in close touch ever since, even after he went to the World Bank and then to Boston University. On some of our meetings – sometimes several decades after he had left Oxford – almost the first question he would ask me was for news of Balliol.

Wherever he went Paul inspired affection and respect, even among people who did not share his views. This is because he combined outstanding intelligence with tolerance for conflicting views and great humility. In conversation with him he had an extraordinary gift for making you feel that you were the more intelligent of the two even though you knew perfectly well that this was not the case. He could be described as ‘saintly’ were it not for the fact that he also had a good sense of humour - a characteristic that, no doubt unfairly, is not generally associated with saints. In my own long life I have met very many economists who have come into contact with Paul and not one of them has ever failed to express their high regard for him, even if they happened to differ from his views.

Paul Streeten is one of those people who have enriched society in general and the lives of all of those who have had the great fortune to have known him.

Andrew Graham (Acting Master 1997–2001; Master 2001–2011):

I find it difficult to think of Paul as an ordinary mortal, not because he is celebrating his 100th birthday, but because he has the rare quality of combining an exceptional mind, eclectic interests, a depth of mid-European understanding that those of us from the Celtic fringes can only wonder at, and an immense humanity. I don’t know him nearly as well as many of those writing here. Indeed, before I came to Balliol to teach economics, I hardly knew him at all. Tommy Balogh (Fellow 1945–1973) was my mentor and I thought, at first, that Paul’s attitude was only explicable if he was assuming that I had been sprinkled with some magic Balogh dust which automatically earned his approval. Not a bit of it. Paul, I quickly learned, treats everyone with immense respect. In fact it is more than respect; it an encouraging warmth of regard which gives one the freedom to say stupid things, whilst feeling that there might still be a path to redemption.

And then I read his book Economic Integration. Even today, it is, by far, the most thoughtful and most incisive study of how and in what ways the UK might gain from being linked more closely to the other European economies, and, if were to be linked, what conditions might make the linkage more or less favourable. I mentioned one day to Paul in the SCR that I liked it and a day later in my pigeon hole there was a copy signed ‘Affectionately, Paul’. It remains, and will always be, a treasured possession.

Soon after arriving at Balliol, I learned that I was not alone in regarding Paul as truly exceptional. As we all know, Paul is an Honorary Fellow. What everyone may not know is that Paul was the last Tutorial Fellow (other than those who became Master) to be given this honour. I recall the debate at the time. It was immediately obvious both that everyone agreed that Paul should be given this mark of respect and that, if the College wished to cease considering Tutorial Fellows for Honorary Fellowships, doing so post-Paul would be a distinction that everyone would respect. He was in a class of his own.

Speaking more personally, Paul, two other memories of you return to me. One is from the early 1970s when monetarism was raising its misbegotten head and you commented, ‘The task of some of us, Andrew, is to keep the frontiers of knowledge where they are.’ The other is when you were speaking at Tommy’s memorial. At the end of your beautifully modulated remarks, you compared him, if I recall it correctly, to an extra-terrestrial being. Even though I know you much less well than I did him, I regard you with a similar sense of awe and it is gives me great pleasure to say so on this your 100th birthday.

Professor Deepak Nayyar (Balliol 1967 and Honorary Fellow):

I first met Paul Streeten in Oxford almost half a century ago. It was 1968. He had just returned after a few years away. And I was a Rhodes Scholar in Balliol College. In 1969, after completing my BPhil in Economics, I went back to India. My two years in the civil service were a learning experience but academia was more enticing and exciting. It was Paul who made it possible for me to return and do my DPhil at Oxford. I learnt to resist the authority of the printed word, question conventional wisdom, and attempt different answers, from Paul, who was my supervisor and mentor as a doctoral student. He also brought home to me the significance of the heterodox and unorthodox in economics, particularly in thinking about development. This association exercised a profound influence on me in times to come. And it was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

Paul combined an incisive intellect and an original mind with a striking lucidity in speaking and writing, which made him a superb teacher. His early research on economic theory was innovative. The capacity to work at the intersection of social science disciplines was amazing. So was the versatility in his range of interests. He was among the few pioneers in development economics: a thinker for whom dissent also advanced knowledge and promoted understanding. His writings on basic needs, human development, and development studies were path-setters. I believe that his contribution to economics as a profession is far greater than he is given credit for.

The quiet, distinguished, academic was an institution-builder too. He was a founder of the Institute for Development Studies at Sussex. He transformed a dormant Institute of Commonwealth Studies at Queen Elizabeth House in Oxford into a vibrant centre for the study of development economics, which has blossomed and flourished since then. He established World Development, an academic journal of repute, and ran it for three decades.

The persona of Paul is admirable. He is courteous and warm to all. He has always been egalitarian and affectionate to those younger than him. He has a genuine concern for the poor of the world. In conversation, the subtle turn of phrase is combined with wit and humour. And he has always loved gossip but without any malice. Above all, he is a wonderful human being.

It is time for us to celebrate this remarkable life on his centennial.

Matthew Nimetz (Balliol 1960):

Matthew recalls Paul and his colleague Lord Thomas Balogh as ‘brilliant thinkers and exciting teachers [who] had deep knowledge about the world and broad ranges of interest’. In honour of Paul Streeten and Lord Balogh, in 2009 Matthew and many others who appreciated their teaching created the Balogh-Streeten Fund, which supports Balliol’s Tutorial Fellowships in the fields of Politics, Philosophy, and Economics and graduate scholarships in Economics.

Professor Akbar Noman (Balliol 1966):

For almost as long as I have known Paul I have been aware of his immense importance to me as a guru in the full sense of the term that folds teacher, guide and inspirer into one. Reflecting on what Paul Streeten has meant to me made me appreciate that he has been even more important to me and in more ways than I had realized.

Reading PPE at Balliol, I was dismayed to discover that Paul was on sabbatical during my undergraduate years (at the newly-founded Ministry of Overseas Development and then at the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex). Fortunately for me, Paul returned to Oxford in 1969 to head Queen Elizabeth House and employed me as a full-time Research Assistant in my gap year between PPE and B.Phil  (as it was known then). Then he was my supervisor during 1970-1972. It was during those three years that my PPE was truly completed as Paul personifies the Renaissance man transcending conventional academic boundaries for whom the social sciences were one seamless web (and one in which much of the humanities were also caught, especially since he has insisted on the centrality of morality and value judgments which, as he often noted, so much of welfare economics pretends to abjure). 

Paul’s sense of fairness and generosity led to my first scholarly publication when Paul deemed my research assistance to be worthy of turning a chapter he was to contribute to a volume into a joint one. Helping him to organise the weekly seminar which he ran at QEH also made me a witness to some of his other wonderful human qualities: while he was as sharp and critical a commentator as anyone, Paul always couched his remarks in gentle civility, always as respectful and kind as possible, especially to the then lesser luminaries. So he was to me as my supervisor. I had somewhat dreaded how Paul would react to my dissertation which was heavily influenced by what had then become fashionable in the economics taught in postgraduate courses, in particular the theory of effective protection and its concern with static allocative efficiency. Paul made his concerns clear but did not insist on me incorporating all his suggestions. Over the years I have continued to grapple with my dissertation and have come to disavow a large part of it: mostly the part that Paul had reservations about. Paul was quite right not only in his view that the importance of static efficiency in the allocation of resources is greatly exaggerated but also about the uses and abuses of empirical work on effective protection. I am now of the view that such work is deeply flawed but I doubt that I would have come to appreciate that as fully as I do had Paul not given me the space and the guidance to think it through myself. What a great way to teach!

One vivid recollection, I have of my earliest encounters with Paul is of him emphasising the importance of the distinction between cleverness and wisdom. Later on I recall a related conversation in which Paul expressed his dismay at the growing fashion of the kind of economics in which the medium of clever theoretical and empirical manipulations becomes the message. One in which such manipulations disguise dubious or unthinking ethical positions or the seeming sophistication of the methodology drives the question to be addressed rather than the other way round.

Another abiding sense of Paul that remains with me is that of his deep moral concerns with justice and equity. As he put it ‘Development is not about index numbers of national income’ rather it is “about and for people” to provide not only their basic material needs but also their aspirations for ‘self-determination, self-reliance, political freedom and security’ and beyond that for ‘a sense of purpose in life and work’. 

When Paul came to work at the World Bank in 1978, where I had just moved to from the IMF, I immediately sought an assignment that would have me working with him. That was when Paul was spearheading work on Basic Needs that led to the World Development Report, 1980 on Poverty and Human Development and subsequently inspired the UNDP’s flagship annual report. That was arguably my most rewarding time at the World Bank where Paul had created an island of intellectual endeavour shorn of the grandstanding, groupthink and pulling of rank that bureaucracies are prone to.

To me, Paul belongs to a romanticised old world of charm and grace in which teachers cared deeply for their students and their education in the broadest sense. When I was leaving for Vienna, Paul said to me that living and going to the opera there will be an important part of my education. At the dawn of my academic career my father died and my family suddenly fell into such dire straits that I became the main provider and had to be away for the academic job interviews in Britain to which I had been asked; Paul went to great lengths to have my application for the one relevant job still going accepted even though I had just missed the deadline in my chaotic absence. That led to the edifying excitement of working with Hans Singer at IDS. But as I now urgently needed more money than an academic salary could provide, Paul was instrumental in getting me a job at the UN Industrial Development Organization in Vienna, while I awaited the rather long-drawn-out process of recruitment to the Young Professional Programs at the IMF and the World Bank.

It was then that I discovered the roots that Paul had in the vanished Viennese world of Freud and Wittgenstein he had grown up in. My time in Vienna coincided with a campaign to save the house that Wittgenstein had designed and built and that was threatened with demolition. Paul was a leader of that successful campaign and I got the opportunity to be a bit of an errand boy in that exercise. Paul’s energetic involvement in that campaign seems to me to have been not just about Wittgenstein but also about a world of reason, decency and compassion that had been so brutally assaulted by the Anschluss in 1938 that Paul just managed to escape from. Balliol and the world would have been so much poorer had Paul not done so. How would we have coped?

Professor Frances Stewart (Professor Emeritus of Development Economics, Oxford Department of International Development):

Paul was a wonderful tutor and supervisor, stimulating and encouraging. In many ways he changed the direction of my academic life, all in good ways. He is open to and interested in ideas and ideologies of all sorts and is totally undogmatic. He was an ideal teacher, and became and remains a great lifelong friend.


Above: Paul Streeten in his nineties (top) and (right) in his Balliol days.

Below: Paul Streeten (centre) with (left to right) former pupil Professor Stephen Lukes (Balliol 1958, Fellow and Tutor in Politics 1966-1988, Emeritus Fellow), Akbar Noman and Andrew Graham.

Professor Paul Streeten and friends