Giblin's Platoon

Giblin's Platoon: The trials and triumph of the economist in Australian public life

Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Giblin's Platoon
    Book Description:

    Around 1920 there formed a friendship of four men who were to be at the heart of Australian economic thought and policy-making over the next 30 years: L.F. Giblin, J.B. Brigden, D.B. Copland and Roland Wilson. This book tells their story. As economists, they were to become key figures in the debates of the day, staking sometimes controversial positions on protectionism, central banking, industrial relations, and federalism. As public figures they were at the hub of several events punctuating their times: the Premiers' Plan of 1931, the Bretton Woods conference of 1944, and the inauguration of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945. As leading public intellectuals, they spoke out on censorship, appeasement and defence. As four men who really counted in Australian public life, they were decisive in the establishment of The Australian National University, the Commonwealth Grants Commission, and the modern form of the Australian Public Service and the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Giblin's Platoon comprehends the personal and intellectual dimensions of their lives, as well as depicting them in political and cultural contexts. It recounts their chequered relations with Jack Lang, John Curtin, S.M. Bruce, R.G. Menzies, and J.B. Chifley, as well as their encounters with the Bloomsbury group, Joseph Conrad of the Jindyworobaks, and William Dobell.  

    eISBN: 978-1-920942-50-2
    Subjects: History, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    William Coleman, Selwyn Cornish and Alf Hagger
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. List of abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Note on archival sources
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. 1. Tasmanian genesis
    (pp. 1-30)

    3.00 pm, 2 March 1951, Hobart. The cremation of Lyndhurst Falkiner Giblin. This is a ceremony without Christian rites. Instead of a priest – Giblin could not abide a ‘parson’ at his funeral – a Norwegian economist friend gives the homily. The god-fearing relatives of the Giblin clan glower from the benches. From the gramophone sounds a Bach Fugue treasured by Giblin. His brother reads from Tennyson’s Ulysses,

    I cannot rest from travel …

    Beyond the utmost bound of human thought

    Thus passes the mortal frame of L. F. Giblin, one of Australia’s great originals. Warrior, sage, and peacemaker; explorer,...

  8. 2. Building
    (pp. 31-44)

    In the years between 1919 and 1924, four men – Giblin, Copland, Brigden and Wilson – formed a bond at the University of Tasmania that was to endure until death. Together, in that short span, they made Tasmania one of the more interesting centres of economic inquiry anywhere in the world. The theory of the Multiplierreceived its earliest discussion there. The modern theory of the impact of protection on real wages was distinctly anticipated. One of the first investigations of the Quantity Theory to go beyond enumerating price levels and money supplies was also undertaken there. This seeming Ultima Thule...

  9. 3. Gold and capital
    (pp. 45-58)

    As Wilson was preparing to leave Australia to study, Copland was readying himself for the same purpose. Copland might have borne a professorial title, but he also had several resemblances to the raw research student packing for Oxford. Like Wilson, he was young: only thirty-one years old. Like Wilson, he was an antipodean who had never left Australasia. Like Wilson, he wanted to undertake ‘further study’, and had been considering undertaking a doctorate at the London School of Economics (Hodgart 1975, p. 4). Copland may have had the dignity and income of a Chair, but his psychology was still that...

  10. 4. Economic science and political power
    (pp. 59-84)

    Wilson was to rejoin neither Copland, Giblin nor Brigden on his return to the University of Tasmania in 1931. By then all had left.

    Copland had been the first to go. His professorial peers at the University in the early 1920s included several men who would occupy their chairs well into the 1950s. Copland had no such settled temperament. He was reaching for the wider world. In October 1923 he applied to the University for one year’s leave, to study either in Britain or the United States. He was refused. Perhaps the Council believed that their young man had already...

  11. 5. Giblin and Keynes
    (pp. 85-106)

    By the onset of the Great Depression Giblin had already developed a theory that would afford a valuable insight into this event: the theory of ‘the multiplier’. The theory contended that any stimulus to spending will not be cancelled by a compensating reduction in consumption spending, but will lead to an increase in total spending by an amount several times as large – ‘a multiple’ - of the initial stimulus; a multiple that depended on the proportion of the amount of income not spent.

    This tool was also to be developed by Keynes during the first years of the Depression....

  12. 6. The Great Depression and the battle for inflation
    (pp. 107-130)

    If the welcome reception in mid 1929 of the Enquiry heralded the arrival of the economist in Australian public life, they were soon to face a stinging test of their usefulness. In the final months of 1929 the world began its skid into the Great Depression. Australia’s national income was soon to decline by 30 per cent; her real national product by 18 per cent; and unemployment of trade unionists to reach 30 per cent in the second quarter of 1932.²

    As the nation sought a resolution of economic turmoil, economists were awarded with an unprecedented eminence in national affairs....

  13. 7. Open letters and private correspondence
    (pp. 131-148)

    Giblin, Brigden and Copland were not scholars immured in library stacks. Nor were they government officials, hidden in invisible annexes to the corridors of power. They were public figures. And they were never more public than in the 1930s, when they took to podium, platform and pen. They were the public intellectuals of the decade.

    These public appearances were not a matter of striking an attitude, of being merely a lamenting chorus to the drama of the protagonists. They entered the amphitheatre to put to field a force that would win an important battle – the struggle between thought and...

  14. 8. The seven-pointed star
    (pp. 149-174)

    It was the Great Depression that brought the four to Canberra. It was a budget crisis that they grappled with. But they were soon engaged with a more enduring and more expressly political problem that had been made manifest by the slump: a general incapability of the federal Australian polity that had been created in 1901.

    The new state had two weaknesses.

    The first was that Australia was both a democracy and an agglomeration. Like any democratic agglomeration, it experienced a tension between the aspiration to unity, and the fact of inequality. Federation was intended to cope with this tension....

  15. 9. In war and peace
    (pp. 175-206)

    It had been the Great War that had first brought Giblin’s four together. In 1939 a still greater war was to unite them a second time. For the next six years they were absorbed in shaping Australia’s war effort.

    They were at the front of the helter skelter dash to build war industries and to marshall a workforce to man them. They educated two Treasurers about the need to consider resourcing the war effort in macroeconomic terms. With the approach of victory, they articulated similar Keynesian notions to preserve full employment in peace. With the global spread of the war,...

  16. 10. The last ridge
    (pp. 207-238)

    The Second World War did not bring the four the culmination of their careers that might have been hoped or expected. At the war’s close three were over 50 years old, and perhaps none would have been buoyed by any marked sense of the completeness of their accomplishments. Brigden had been dismissed from the inner counsels of government not long after he reached them. Copland’s ambition for a preeminent place in academia had been crushed in 1938, and he had spent the war in a government position more imposing than powerful. In 1946 Wilson was returned to the position he...

  17. References
    (pp. 239-254)
  18. Index
    (pp. 255-263)