Edwin George West: 1922-2001
E.G. West acting as a discussion leader at an AIMS Student
Leadership conference in Halifax in 1997.
Eddy West was born in England. He was educated at Heles Grammar School, Exeter, and Exeter University, graduating in Economics in 1948. After gaining a teaching diploma, he started his career at a technical college in Wednesbury, Staffs., moving successively to Guildford Technical College in 1951 and to Oxford College of Technology in 1956. In 1962, after receiving his doctorate in Economics from London University, he was appointed Lecturer in Economics at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. The academic year of 1965-66 he spent as a Research Fellow at the University of Chicago, after which he became Reader in Economics at the University of Kent, before accepting an appointment to the Department of Economics at Carleton University in Ottawa, where he remained for the rest of his active life.
Eddy West broke into academic publication in 1964 and 1965 with two articles, “Private vs. Public Education: a classical economic dispute”, in the Journal of Political Economy, and “Tom Paine’s Voucher System for Public Education”, in the Southern Economic Journal. He spent much of the rest of his career elaborating on the problems of government monopoly in education, and on analysis of various methods for having students pay for education, and professors be paid for teaching and research. In this less than perfect world, he preferred a complex combination of government and private funding that would motivate students and their teachers to the highest level of performance in response to consumer demand. He was sure that individual citizens knew better than governments what the educational system should offer.
His interests were wider than the structure of the educational system, but they always fell within a domain dependent on the spirit of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. He argued relentlessly for the virtues of competitive markets over government agency with its inefficient monopolistic and motivational failures. If a colleague in the Department at Carleton referred to the views of “Eddy Smith”, there was no doubt about whose policy proposal was being discussed. Indeed, he referred to himself as a nineteenth century Whig. It was the spirit of Adam Smith, however, and not the doctrine of the Wealth of Nations that he propagated. His colleague at Carleton University, Jack Galbraith (a closet advocate of private banking) pointed out to him that there was such a thing as “the Adam Smith Problem”, at least with respect to banking. It took some persuading but, eventually, Eddy conceded that Smith had erred in the extent to which he advocated government control of the banking system’s power to issue currency.
As a colleague Eddy was a delight. He was open to collaboration with every member of his Department, from graduate students to the most senior professors, even when he himself was a tenured Full Professor and, after retirement in the early 1990s, Professor Emeritus. This was regardless of any difference of opinion they might have with him on the role of government in the market place. There seemed to be nothing that anyone could write or say that Eddy could not, in good humour, turn to use in promoting policies consistent with the liberalism he found in the works of Adam Smith.
Although Eddy spent most of his career in the Department of Economics at Carleton in Canada, he had an international readership and effective outside contacts. At one time or another he was a visiting professor at Berkeley, Virginia Polytechnical Institute, Emory University, and the University of Chicago. He was a member of several advisory or editorial boards of independent economic institutes around the world, including the Board of Research Advisors of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.
Professor West had well over one hundred articles published in learned journals, too many to list here, and he had over a dozen books published, some of which are listed below.
Education and the State: a study in political economy, Institute of Economic Affairs, 1965.
Adam Smith, Arlington House, 1969.
Education and the Industrial Revolution, Harper and Row, 1975.
Adam Smith: the man and his works, Liberty Fund, 1977.
(and Roger L. Miller) Economics Today: the micro way, Harper and Row, 1978.
(and Roger L. Miller) Economics Today: the macro way, Harper and Row, 1978.
(with Michael McKee) Minimum Wages,: the new issues in theory, evidence, policy and politics, Economic Council of Canada, 1980.
Higher Education in Canada: an analysis, Fraser Institute, 1988.
Adam Smith and Modern Economics: from market behaviour to public choice, E. Elgar, 1990.
(with Caryn Duncan, Jonathan Kesselman, and Stephen Easton) Ending the Squeeze on Universities, Institute for Research on Public Policy, 1993.
Education and the State: a study in political economy, Liberty Fund, 1994.
Reforming the Universities: the coming upheaval in higher education in Nova Scotia and elsewhere, Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, 1995.
The author of this tribute is Prof. Robin Neill, UPEI, Member of the AIMS Research Advisory Board and a long-time colleague of Professor West’s.