My education started as an undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austin in 1977. I was an economics major, with a minor in philosophy. At that stage my main interests were in the history of economics and in philosophical pragmatism. Major influences on me came from Bobbie Horn and William Darity, Jr. in Economics and Irwin Lieb, in Philosophy.
From Texas I went on to the graduate program in the Economics Department at Iowa State University. I wrote a dissertation on Keynes and on general equilibrium theory. My major professor was Dudley Luckett. I also worked extensively with Karl Fox. I was glad to receive a conventional economics education while at Iowa State, but at a place where my unconventional intellectual tastes, for a modern economist, were tolerated. I can see now that conventional economics does contain some truths of lasting importance, but I am still convinced that is does not encompass all wisdom.
My first job out of graduate school was at Wake Forest University, which attracted me because it offered the opportunity of quality teaching and research. That is a combination that is sadly rare in the American academy today. I found I enjoyed interacting with the good students I encountered there and started reading and writing on the history of monetary economics and current monetary institutions, and especially on the economics of Keynes.
Early in my career at Wake Forest, I was excited about the opportunities offered by its smaller size to learn from scholars in other disciplines. First with Ian Taplin in Sociology, joined later by Simone Caron in History, I co-organized an interdisciplinary seminar to discuss current work that is of interest to a wide group of social scientists. Now, over twenty years later, the seminar has grown but remains successful and stimulating. I still help co-organize it with those same colleagues. The Social Science Research Seminar website can be viewed at http://www.wfu.edu/~caron/ssrs/ .
I spent the summer of 1988 in Cambridge, England. There I began to realize that interpretations of Keynes that relied solely on modern macroeconomic theory to interpret his work got his insights seriously wrong. I saw a need to research the economic ideas that eventually developed into Keynes’s The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. I concieved this idea from reading Keynes’s papers at the King’s College Modern Archive and from beginning to read from the reading lists he used, as well as the background materials on economics that were concurrent with his time, place and influences. This project obviously called for many years of reading and writing to be done correctly, but was of paramount significance for modern economics, I believe.
With the assistance of Geoffrey Harcourt of Jesus College, Cambridge, I arranged a semester-long stay at Clare Hall College in 1991. While there I read extensively in the rich material of the Keynes papers and furthered my understanding of the work of the great Cambridge economist Alfred Marshall. I also benefited from Geoff’s deep scholarly knowledge.
Back in the U.S. in 1992, I continued to teach monetary theory and the history of economics, along with other less-specialized courses. I became a close associate of John Davis and Zohreh Emami, two Keynes scholars whom I had met at Clare Hall. They have become valued sounding boards for my ideas, as has Jacky Cox, the deputy keeper of the Cambridge University archives.
I also at this time became close friends and colleagues with two members of the Wake Forest Economics faculty, Allin Cottrell and John Wood.
In Allin I found a kindred spirit, who was also interested in the history of economics and Keynes scholarship and in philosophy. We have co-authored papers, co-hosted a conference and co-edited a book for Duke University Press on Keynes. Allin is an excellent critic, who has generously given his time to me for the valuable service of reading virtually everything I have written and offering useful comments.
Allin also fired my enthusiasm for data analysis, a subject upon which he is deeply knowledgeable. He has written his own open-source-code econometrics software package, GRETl, Together we planned and now teach a required course that was added to the Economics Department curriculum in 2000: “Economic Data Analysis.” Visitors can view my website for this course at http://www.wfu.edu/~lawlor/econ201.html.
John Wood has often provided me with a different political and economic outlook from my own, against which it was important and useful for me to test my own ideas. He has spent a lifetime trying to understand the behavior of monetary authorities and their role and motivation in formulating monetary policy. He is particularly well read on the history of the Federal Reserve Bank and that of the Bank of England. John’s book on that topic can be viewed at http://www.cambridge.org/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=0521850134.
John is also a committed scholar, one who follows the path of truth regardless of where it might lead, and even if it leads him to certain ideas that might challenge his preconceived notions. I find that talent rare in any area of scholarship and in life. I have benefited immensely from the many exchanges I have had with John, and he has read and commented on many of my writings.
Meanwhile, my wife Jan became interested in public health through her work at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Our discussions of this topic led to my formulating a course on the economics of health and medicine in 1992. Further, her pursuit of a master of public health at the University of North Carolina gave our family the impetus to move to the Research Triangle area of North Carolina in 1994, where I taught for a year at Duke University and attended seminars in health economics at Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill.
That experience informed and reinforced my teaching and research interest in health economics when we returned to Wake Forest. Eventually it led to my cross-appointment to the Public Health Sciences Department of the medical school. It also culminated in my founding a health policy and administration minor at Wake Forest in 2000 for interested students from many majors. The website for the minor is at http://www.wfu.edu/hpa/ . An article on the first seven years of the program can be seen at http://www.wfu.edu/wowf/2006/2006.11.28.html.
I am proud of all the students who have graduated from this minor, many of whom are now in major graduate public health programs around the country, including at Chapel Hill, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Harvard, Yale and Johns Hopkins, or in health care administrative positions.
In 2006 I finished my work on Keynes’s economic ideas with the publication of The Economics of Keynes in Historical Context: An Intellectual History of the General Theory (Macmillan/Palgrave Publishers). The publisher’s website for this book is at http://www.palgrave.com/products/title.aspx?PID=264675.
I am continuing to teach economic data analysis, the economics of health and medicine, and the history of economics. My current research focuses on empirical work in the economic analysis of health policy. I am working on two NIH-sponsored projects with multidisciplinary teams at the Wake Forest medical school. One, the HELP trial, is testing the feasibility and cost of a diet and exercise intervention for a population of pre-diabetics. It is an intervention designed to prevent the onset of full diabetes in a low-cost group setting. The other, the Look AHEAD study, is investigating a diet and exercise intervention designed to lower weight and prevent cardiovascular events in overweight diabetics.