Bob Barro and David Ricardo
In a comment on my most recent post, co-blogger Scott Sumner makes a good point:
Ricardian equivalence should probably be called “Barro equivalence”, as the economics profession generally names concepts after their modern (re)discoverer.
That reminds me of another fun story.
Background: Barro’s article rediscovering Ricardian equivalence was in the Journal of Political Economy in 1974. (He didn’t mention Ricardo in his article.) I had my head down that year, starting to work on my Ph.D. dissertation and so I completely missed it. I did know of Barro because we had read some work by Barro and Grossman in my macro classes at UCLA. He and Grossman wrote those pieces when, I think, Barro could arguably be called a Keynesian.
In June 1975, I was invited to my first Liberty Fund colloquium. Svetozar Pejovich organized it at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and I attended. There were a number of economists there whom I regarded as economic stars. Because of the story I’m about to relate, I won’t give the name of the particular economic star. One Liberty Fund rule is the Chatham House rule, which says that you’re not allowed to report on something someone else said without that person’s consent. Call this person “X.”
In a discussion about deficits, X, kind of out of the blue, criticized Bob Barro for that article, saying he was reinventing the wheel. (Bob Barro wasn’t one of the participants.) He then explained to the group pretty well what the article said and seemed to be critical of two things: (1) Barro’s reinventing the wheel and (2) the actual point Barro, and Ricardo, had made.
I didn’t get this guy’s point, so I did what I always do in such circumstances: asked a question.
“X,” I said, “I’m trying to figure out your criticism: is it that Barro reinvented the wheel or is it that the wheel isn’t round?” I can’t remember getting a clear answer but I think it was basically that the wheel wasn’t all that round.
Fast forward to September 1975, when I arrived at the University of Rochester as an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Management (now the Simon School.) The president of the university, Robert Sproul, had a really nice reception and dinner for all the new hires across campus. I found myself sitting at the same table as Bob Barro. He had arrived at the economics department as, if I recall correctly, an associate professor with tenure. So I told him the story without telling the question I asked. Then, I said, I asked X “is the wheel round?” Barro laughed out loud. We later became close and I’ve always enjoyed his laugh.
By the way, here are some fun reminiscences by Barro about his 1974 article.
And here is my biography of Ricardo in David R. Henderson, ed., The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.