Document Type

Conference Paper

Publication Date

2008

Abstract

Shann towered over the discipline of economics in the state of Western Australia in the first third of the twentieth century. He was the foundation professor in history and economics from 1913 to 1931 and inaugural professor of economics from 1931 to 1934 at the University of Western Australia (UWA); he set the curriculum for the subjects that constituted the economics major that was offered at UWA over this period and ensured that it had a market-driven, policy-oriented and historical flavour; he trained a generation of bright young men and women—such as John La Nauze, Nugget Coombs, Merab Harris, Paul Hasluck, Arthur Tange and Alexander Reid—who drew upon his teachings (even when they disagreed with certain elements of it) to guide their actions as servants of the public; he exploited his contacts in the commercial and professional world of Perth to draw men of intellect, but not formal economic training, into the newly established local branch of the Economic Society of Australia and New Zealand in 1925; he established close contacts with local men of finance, including Alfred Davidson of the Bank of New South Wales, in a way that eventually allowed him (and his students!) to provide policy advice at a national level; and he used his power as an administrator, at one time acting as the Vice Chancellor of the university, to establish a faculty of law and a diploma in journalism, both of which thereafter had close associations with the economics discipline at UWA. Shann, in short, created the discipline of economics in Western Australia in his own image.

Unfortunately, however, a number of powerful identities in Perth resented the free-market commentaries that Shann dispensed in the public domain and before his students, and hence orchestrated a public campaign to arrest his influence. In this paper I provide an account of Shann’s influence in Western Australia from 1913 to 1934 and trace the campaign waged against him (and economics) which eventually induced him to leave this state.

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