The Wolf at the door


The New Republic has a very good profile of the world’s best economics commentator, Martin Wolf. Wolf is also, I’ll hazard, the most quoted person over ten years of Davos Newbies, for what that’s worth.

There are two important little details that I’d add to Julia Ioffe’s article. First, she notes that Wolf studied economics at Oxford. His graduate work was in economics, but before he turned to the social sciences, Wolf completed his degree in Literae Humaniores, known as classics to the barbarians among my readers. I think the lucidity and logic of Wolf’s writing owes an enormous debt to his years studying Greek and Latin.

The other aspect to Wolf that Ioffe misses is the columnist he supplanted. Sir Samuel Brittan still clogs up the Financial Times’ op-ed page from time to time. But before Wolf, Brittan (brother of Mrs Thatcher’s Home Secretary, Leon Brittan) was the stentorian voice of economic analysis at the FT. I always found him unreadable, however brilliant his analysis was meant to be. Part of Wolf’s success was the contrast between his clear prose and Brittan’s sludge.

Update See Martin Wolf’s comment below. He spent the first half of his undergraduate years at Oxford doing Greats, and then switched to Politics, Philosophy and Economics.

3 thoughts on “The Wolf at the door

  1. Doug

    Clear writing comes from clear thinking; I wonder whether study of Greek and Latin helped Wolf to think clearly or whether he already thought clearly and the classics simply polished him up a bit.

  2. Lance Knobel

    Chicken. Egg.

    I think classics is one of those disciplines that inculcates clear thinking. How 19th century of me, I guess. Benjamin Jowett would approve.

  3. Martin Wolf

    Lance is very kind. I do indeed owe an enormous amount to the five years of my life spent exclusively on the classics. But, to correct him, I did not complete “Greats” (formally, “Literae Humaniores”). I only did the first five terms (known as “Classical Moderations”) of the four year (12 term) course. Then I switched to Politics, Philosophy and Economics.


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