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Sir Charles Carter (1919 - 2002):
Economist and university administrator

Sir Charles Carter

Professor Sir Charles Carter was an economist whose interest in Ulster, theoretical and practical, extended beyond his seven years spent in Belfast in the 1950s as an academic at the rapidly expanding Queen’s University, as well as beyond any confines of his academic discipline.  

Charles Frederick Carter was born in Rugby, England, third and youngest son of Frederick William Carter, and electrical engineer, whose work on electrical railways and especially his development of the “Carter coefficient” (a technical formula) brought him a Fellowship of the Royal Society; his mother was Edith Mildred Cramp, from whom he took the Quaker beliefs which he would maintain tenaciously all his life. He attended Rugby School followed by St John’s College, Cambridge (his father’s alma mater) where he graduated with first class honours in mathematics and economics. He refused, as a devout Quaker, to serve in the military or in any activity connected to it during the Second World War and claimed exemption without conditions, under the National Service (Armed Forces) Act 1939. The tribunals which administered this legislation worked on a case-by-case basis, and even though Quakers had traditionally been exempted from military service in England, Carter had to undergo several months’ incarceration in Strangeways prison, Manchester. However, he was  released in 1941, and spent the rest of the war working for the Friends’ Relief Service, during which time he met his future wife, also a strong Quaker. After the war, Carter was appointed to the Cambridge University lectureship in statistics, in the faculty of economics, and in 1947 was appointed a fellow of Emmanuel College (he was appointed honorary fellow in 1965).

1948 saw his first contribution (there would be many) to the Economic Journal, the flagship publication of the Royal Economic Society. At this period, there were strong, even bitter, academic disputes in the Cambridge University over economic theory, especially between “Marshallian” economic theory (after the economist Alfred Marshall) and the “Keynesian” theory of John Maynard Keynes. In 1952 Carter moved to Queen’s University, Belfast to occupy the newly created Chair of Applied Economics. He became interested in the nature of Ulster society and under the auspices of the Irish Association for Cultural, Economic and Social Relations, in 1959 was commissioned with Denis Barritt, a Northern Ireland businessman and a fellow Quaker, The Northern Ireland Problem: A Study in Group Relations. This study of what the authors affirmed in their introduction was not the only “problem” – that is, the Protestant-Catholic division and its effects on Ulster and specifically Northern Irish society - but mainly this one, they offered as being of interest to those concerned with the problems of divided societies anywhere. The study was published in 1962, with a second edition in 1972, the worst year of the Troubles for fatalities, and is still regarded as a significant milestone in studies of its kind. One point Carter was keen to make was that he was not going to conflate Ulster the province with Northern Ireland the political entity, and he would deliver lectures in Counties Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal – Ulster counties which were part of the Irish Republic -  to underline this.  

While at Queen’s, Carter produced (with BR Williams) three publications for the Royal Society of Arts’ science and industry committee, of which he was chairman: Industry and Technical Progress (1957), Investment in Innovation (1958), and Science in Industry (1959). In 1959, he returned to Manchester, but this time to a rather different establishment to his previous Mancunian “posting”: he was appointed Stanley Jevons Professor of Political Economy and Cobden Lecturer at the University of Manchester. In 1961, he became editor of the Economic Journal. His short book The Science of Wealth: an Elementary Textbook of Economics appeared in 1963, with further editions in 1967 and 1973 and has been described as "years ahead of its time in stressing that human happiness and civilisation are not the same as the level of GNP per head" In 1963, Carter was appointed founding Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lancaster. During his decade and a half in that position he oversaw all aspects of the new establishment, from curriculum to building, planning, and finances. He was active outside the University, as Chairman of the North-West Economic Planning Council (1965-8) and the School of Broadcasting Council for the United Kingdom (1964-70).

Carter retired in 1979 and was knighted, but maintained numerous other involvements in public affairs. He was Chairman of the Post Office Review Committee from 1975 until 1977 which considered how the postal and telecommunications services could be separated, so laying the groundwork for the eventual birth of British Telecom. He was a long-time trustee of the Sir Halley Stewart Trust (a religious-ethos body awarding grants in various areas) and the Policy Studies Institute (which produces research studies relevant to social, economic, industrial and environmental policy).  The list of boards, committees and organisations he served on and worked for was lengthy and included in addition to the above, the Centre for Studies in Social Policy (1972-1978); the Royal Economic Society, of which he was Secretary-General (1971-1975); the Manchester Statistical Society (1967-1969); the Commission on Higher Education in the Republic of Ireland (196-1967); the Council of Goldsmith’s College, University of London, where he was appointed Chairman in 1988; and the International Academy of Management of which he was a Fellow. Carter was a committed Quaker throughout his life.

All who knew him attested his lifelong Quaker faith to be the motivation for everything he did. His book, The Science of Wealth, reflected his Quaker views in its outlook regarding that human happiness was not always positively correlated with material advancement. He served for twenty-eight years (from 1966) as a trustee of the Joseph Rowntree Memorial Trust, now the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the leading Quaker organisation; he was its Vice-Chairman from 1981. This enabled him to put into action his Quaker principle that wealth should be put to the service of those in greatest need. From 1977 until 1987 Carter made a new link with Ulster as Chairman of the Northern Ireland Economic Development Council. On his retirement, the Council instituted an annual Sir Charles Carter Lecture in his honour. Also, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Marjorie Mowlam, (in office 1997-1999), went for advice to Carter, partly as joint author of the 1962 study and its even-handed “cross-community” outlook. Carter also forged some connections south of the border, as an economic adviser to the Irish government; he was later appointed to the Royal Irish Academy. He had honorary degrees from both sides of the Irish border, of which two were from Ulster: in 1979 the new University of Ulster conferred on him an honorary DSc, and Queen’s University, Belfast conferred the same degree on him the following year (Dublin University and the National University of Ireland also awarded him honorary doctorates).

Born: 15 August 1919
Died: 27 June 2002
Richard Froggatt

Wesley McCann

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; obituaries (all major press); private information