History of economic thought

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The history of economic thought deals with different thinkers and theories in the subject that became political economy and economics from the ancient world to the present day.


  • Hayek was a great historian of economic thought. His reading and writing in the field of economic history were among the influences that shifted his academic research focus from technical economic theory to broader societal thought.
    • Alan Ebenstein, Hayek's Journey: The Mind of Friedrich Hayek (2003), Ch. 7. From Economic Theory to Political Philosophy.
  • The economic policy issues that we debate today—trade policy, inflation, the proper role of government, the eradication of poverty, and the means of raising the rate of economic growth—have been discussed by economists for more than two centuries. Many of today’s economic policies—both the good ones and the bad—are the result of the ideas of those past economists. And many of today’s debates about economic policy can be understood only by those who have at least some familiarity with the ideas of earlier economists.
    The giants of economic science during the past two hundred years have been men concerned with the critical policy issues of their time. They studied the working of the economy in order to advocate better economic policies. But despite their concern with policy, they were not polemicists or politicians but men who sought to persuade their contemporaries in government and in the broader public by analysis and evidence that would meet the standards of professional debate.
    • Martin Feldstein (1989), Foreword to New Ideas from Dead Economists by Todd Buchholz.
  • The writer of a history of economic thought must have, above all else, some principles of selectivity. Over the past two hundred-odd years , many hundreds of economic thinkers have written thou sands of books on economic theory and capitali sm. The contemporary intellectual historian, in the space of one book, can theref ore present only a limited number of the most important ideas of the most important thinkers .
    • E. K. Hunt, History of Economic Thought: A Critical Perspective (3rd ed., 2011), Preface
  • I cannot overemphasize that the Keynesian revolution also had profound and unfortunate effects on economic research.  …  In the Keynesian revolution Hayek was not merely misunderstood—he was victimized by myth making.  With the acceptance of Keynesian economics, the history of economics was rewritten.  Economics was divided into pre-Keynesian and Keynesian thought (and now we speak of post-Keynesian economics).  Accepting Keynes's own solecistic usage, economists perceived Keynes's predecessors—with a few exceptions—as "classical" economists.  In keeping with Keynes's original suggestion, Oskar Lange pictured economists before Keynes as believing in Say's law of markets (Oskar Lange, "Say's Law: A Restatement and Criticism," in Oskar Lange et al. eds., Studies in Mathematical Economics and Econometrics [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942]).  Belief in Say's law became, then, the hallmark of the classical system and the alleged source of all the great classical errors.  Say's law not only was reinterpreted in a way that made it scarcely recognizable to an authentic classical economist, but also was made into a proposition that only a fool would accept.  This defamation of Keynes's predecessors is what, I believe, Keynes and, even more, his followers accomplished in a decade (see W. H. Hutt, A Rehabilitation of Say's Law [Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1974]).

    Classificatory schema of the "Keynesian–classical" variety are suspect to say the least.  The lumping together of virtually all Keynes's predecessors obscures what distinguishes economists between the Marginal Revolution and the Keynesian revolution.  Overlooked in particular are the many and diverse contributions to the theory of economic fluctuations by monetary specialists from the end of the nineteenth century to the 1930s and beyond.  These economists include, inter alia, Ludwig von Mises, Gunnar Myrdal, D. H. Robertson, Hayek, and even Keynes himself in his Treatise on Money (1st ed., 1930 in The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes, vols. 5 and 6 [London: Macmillan & Co., 1971]).  Each of these economists pointed to the failings of the quantity theory and offered revisions.  They also contributed to the development of the theory of economic fluctuations.  It is therefore misleading to describe them as classical or pre-Keynesian.  Also these theorists developed certain parts of what is termed Keynes's critique of monetary economics to a greater extent than Keynes himself did.

    • Gerald P. O'Driscoll, "Introduction," Economics as a Coordination Problem: The Contributions of Friedrich A. Hayek (Kansas City: Sheed Andrews and McMeel, 1977), pp. xv, xvi–xvii.
  • I define the subject matter of the history of economics to be economics which is not read to master present-day economics (although possibly it is read to learn the path by which we have reached the present).
    • George Stigler, "Does Economics Have a Useful Past?", History of Political Economy (1969)
  • Economics, I thus believe, has a useful past, a past that is useful in dealing with the future.
    • George Stigler, "Does Economics Have a Useful Past?", History of Political Economy (1969)
  • While it is tempting to think of the history of economics as the history of a succession of great thinkers who advanced the quantity and quality of analysis in this field, seldom did these pioneers create perfected analyses. The gaps, murkiness, errors and shortcomings common to pioneers in many fields were also common in economics. Clarifying, repairing and more rigorously systematizing what the giants of the profession created required the dedicated work of many others, who did not have the genius of the giants, but who saw many individual things more clearly than did the great pioneers.
    • Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics, 4th ed. (2010), Ch. 25. The History of Economics.

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