A Note about Laszlo Csapo; “Economics is a Serious Business”

Peter Burley and Laszlo Csapo coauthored an illuminating article:

Burley, Peter and Csapo, Laszlo, (1992) Money Information in Lonergan-von Neumann Systems, Economic Systems Research, Vol 4, No. 2, 1992 [Burley and Csapo, 1992-1]  

In trying to find out something about Csapo, I came across an  article-lecture by Geoff Raby, from which I have excerpted four paragraphs about Csapo.

“The student protests began with the death of Hu Yaobang in April 1989. Over the weeks and months leading to the June 4 violence, the depth of the political divisions among the top leadership became apparent. As I watched wave after wave of protest groups pass by my apartment on Chang An Avenue and saw a student movement become a broadly based movement of the people until the military intervened, I kept recalling my Hungarian professor of comparative economic systems all those years ago at La Trobe University.

“Laslo Csapo was a brilliant economist of the Eastern European tradition. Erudite and always thinking in terms of big systems and grand historical processes. He had no time for the Marshallian marginalists who thought in terms of small changes. Economics for him was part of a grand discourse about how societies change.

“He had been one of the elite group of Hungarian economists who tried to sneak in market reforms under the nose of the increasingly sclerotic Soviet Union. He had been deputy governor of the Hungarian National Bank. He would take cases of cash in the boot of his car across the border to Vienna to settle Hungary’s debts with Western creditors. He had a passport that let him move in and out of the country. But the early market reforms they had experimented with had overstepped some invisible political boundary. The Soviets were unhappy and, having been tipped off that he was about to be arrested, Csapo escaped with his family to Vienna, with nothing else.”

When he lectured on comparative economic systems, he would chain-smoke – yes, we all smoked in lecture theatres in those days – and pace up and down the lecture hall. He would say to the largely bored and uninterested students, who would much rather have been at the pub than listening to that thick central European accent, “you f**king Australians, you do not understand that economics is a serious business”. As I watched the tanks move into Tiananmen Square on that fateful evening, Laslo’s words were pounding in my ears. Economics is indeed a serious business.”

Leave a Reply