Angus Maddison
OECD Observer

Professor Angus Maddison, who died on  24 April, was an outstanding economist  and OECD legend. In fact, Maddison joined  the OECD even before it existed. In 1952,  he became a member of what was then  the Economic and Statistics Directorate of  the Organisation for European Economic  Co-operation, the OEEC. When the  OEEC became the OECD in 1961, he  took his lifelong obsession with statistics,  measurement and accuracy to the problems  of development.

    Maddison spearheaded the first  comprehensive analysis–he would call it  the first attempted analysis, with his usual  caution–of financial flows to developing  countries.

Following a period as director of the  OECD’s technical assistance programme  to Greece, Portugal, Turkey and Yugoslavia,  Maddison joined the Development Centre  as a research fellow in 1964. Thus began a  relationship that was to continue for the rest  of his life.

Maddison worked on so many issues that I  cannot detail them all here. On behalf of the  Development Centre, he provided technical  assistance to countries as diverse as Brazil  (under a military dictatorship), Guinea,  Mongolia and the Soviet Union. He wrote  a landmark study on growth compared  between Japan and the Soviet Union in 1966.  After a brief period away from the OECD,  Maddison returned in 1971 to compile  the first Yearbook of Education Statistics,  which, of course, is one of the roots  of our renowned PISA. He went on to  study problems of welfare and income  distribution, which had come to the fore  during the post-war boom and the growth  of the welfare state in some countries. These  problems of equity and wealth distribution  are now very much on the agenda in the  emerging economies of the world.

By 1979, Maddison had switched again.  This time, he was behind the publication of  Measuring Employment and Unemployment, a  major contribution to the OECD’s attempts  to standardise definitions of employment  and, hence, provide accurate information.

Measuring Employment and Unemployment  was the last study Angus wrote at the OECD  before his departure to the University of  Groningen in the Netherlands. But it was,  happily, not his last study for us.

On the contrary, Maddison remained firmly  attached to the Development Centre and  to its special position within the OECD,  and it was natural that he turned to the  Development Centre as he prepared the  first of his outstanding works on the  world economy, The World Economy in the  Twentieth Century, published by the OECD  in 1989.

The follow-up study, Monitoring the World  Economy 1820-1992, was a taste of what was  to come in his seminal, The World Economy:  A Millennial Perspective, a remarkable  work that traces the evolution of the world  economy over a thousand years! Two years  later, Maddison revised all his statistics  and the OECD published them, so  that other scholars could build on his  extraordinary work.

Maddison’s excellent works from the OECD  and elsewhere rely on statistics and analysis.  His ability to render a mass of statistical  information into ordinary, concise language  has made his unique body of work accessible  even to the casual, non-specialist reader. This  is an important resource for those tracing  back our economic history, and a lesson that  everyone should take to heart!  In this rich body of work, readers will find  much about China. This is also part of  Angus Maddison’s legacy. Twelve years  ago, the OECD published a Development  Centre study by Maddison that generated  much controversy in the West and some  satisfaction in China. The visionary, but  always evidence-based, Chinese Economic  Performance in the Long Run announced that  China was retrieving its “historical position”  as the world’s largest economy. He repeated  this claim in a 2002 article in OECD  Observer (see The  2007 revised and updated edition concluded  that China was catching up so fast that, in  PPP terms, its economy would overtake that  of the US as the world’s largest by 2015 or  earlier. The rest, you might say, is history.

Many of Maddison’s broad economic  forecasts have come true and others will no  doubt do so. What a pity he will not be here  to see them materialise. Angus Maddison  is survived by his wife, Penny, and three  children.   

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q3 2017 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% Dec 2017 annual
Trade: +4.3% exp, +4.3% imp, Q3 2017
Unemployment: 5.5% Dec 2017
Last update: 12 Feb 2018


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