Britain’s David Henderson: an appreciation
By Alberto Mingardi
Not *our* David Henderson, but the British economist David Henderson passed away at age 91. Len Shackleton has an obituary on the Institute of Economic Affairs’s website. Henderson long worked for the OECD and, after that, became an active supporter of the IEA, for which he wrote a couple of monographs.
I loved his The Role of Business in the Modern World, published in 2004. Here, as in other works, David dealt with “corporate social responsibility”, which became a buzzword right after the Enron scandal. Henderson understood CSR as a way to have businesses pursuing non-economic objectives: that is, prioritizing other goals than the the pursuit of profit (and other beneficiaries than shareholders). This was in some way a compliment the enemies of the market economy paid to it: to achieve their goals, it is better to turn to business rather than to direct state intervention, which is, in fact, another way to admit that the government is too inefficient to achieve its own ends. And yet Henderson saw it as something breeding confusion and potentially weakening business performance.
The book claims the importance of profit-oriented enterprises in fostering economic progress and does it beautifully. As it happens with many of the IEA’s “Hobart Papers”, it is not only a text that was of use in the public policy battles of the day, but can be profitably read years after it was written.
Len remembers Henderson as “an old-fashioned economist”. I shall add: “an old-fashioned gentleman,” too. It was a privilege to know him: a kind and thoughtful man. May he rest in peace.