Kenneth Boulding

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The closed economy of the future might similarly be called the 'spaceman' economy, in which the earth has become a single spaceship, without unlimited reservoirs of anything, either for extraction or for pollution, and in which, therefore, man must find his place in a cyclical ecological system
- Kenneth Boulding, 1966

Kenneth Ewart Boulding (18 January 191018 March 1993) was an economist, educator, poet, religious mystic, devoted Quaker, systems scientist and interdisciplinary philosopher. He was cofounder of General Systems Theory and founder of numerous ongoing intellectual projects in economics and social science. He was married to Elise M. Boulding.




  • We are not sent into this world to walk it in solitude. We are born to love, as we are born to breathe and eat and drink. The babe is hardly separated from his mother’s womb before he stretches out a tiny clasping hand, and from that time forth he will constantly stretch out to touch the world that lies about him and the folk that dwell therein. The purpose of our growth in life is to bring us into unity with the universe into which we are born, to make us aware that we are not lonely individual meteors hurtling blindly through an abysmal dark, but living parts of a living whole. As we grow we learn to love more and more: first ourselves; then the family within the small kingdom of the home; then the school, the wider circle of friends, the home community, the college, and the still wider community of the nation; and finally, the greatest country of all, which has no boundaries this side of Hell, and perhaps not even there.
    • Kenneth Boulding (1942) "The Practice of The Love of God", William Penn Lecture, delivered at Arch Street Meetinghouse, Philadelphia, 1942. In: Friends' Intelligencer, Vol. 99 p. 231-261
The ultimate "causes of price" - to use a Classical term - lie deeply embedded in the psychology and techniques of mankind and his environment, and are as manifold as the sands of the sea
- Kenneth Boulding, 1944
  • The ultimate "causes of price" - to use a Classical term - lie deeply embedded in the psychology and techniques of mankind and his environment, and are as manifold as the sands of the sea. All economic analysis is an attempt to classify these manifold causes, to sort them out into categories of discourse that our limited minds can handle, and so to perceive the unity of structural relationship which both unites and separates the manifoldness. Our concepts of "demand" and "supply" are such broad categories. In whatever sense they are used, they are not ultimate determinants of anything, but they are convenient channels through which we can classify and describe the effects of the multitude of determinants of the system of economic magnitude.
    • Kenneth Boulding (1944) "A Liquidity Preference Theory of Market Prices". In: Economica, New Series, Vol. 11, No. 42 (May, 1944), pp. 55-63.
    • C. Brown (2003) "Toward a reconcilement of endogenous money and liquidity preference" in: Journal of Post Keynesian Economics. Winter 2003–4, Vol. 26, No. 2. 323 commented on this article, saying: "Boulding (1944) argued that if liquidity preference were divorced from the "demand for money," the former could come into its own as a theory of financial asset pricing. According to this view, rising liquidity preference or a "wave of bearish sentiment" is manifest in a shift from certain asset categories, specifically, those that are characterized by high capital uncertainty (that is, uncertainty about the future value of the asset as a result of market revaluation) to assets such as commercial paper or giltedged securities."
  • Conventions of generality and mathematical elegance may be just as much barriers to the attainment and diffusion of knowledge as may contentment with particularity and literary vagueness... It may well be that the slovenly and literary borderland between economics and sociology will be the most fruitful building ground during the years to come and that mathematical economics will remain too flawless in its perfection to be very fruitful.
    • Kenneth Boulding (1948) "Samuelson's Foundations: The Role of Mathematics in Economics," In: Journal of Political Economy, Vol 56 (June). as cited in: Peter J. Boettke (1998) "James M. Buchanan and the Rebirth of Political Economy". Boettke further explains "Boulding's words are even more telling today than they were then as we have seen the fruits of the formalist revolution in economic theory and how it has cut economics off from the social theoretic discourse on the human condition."

Economic Analysis, 1941


Kenneth Boulding (1941) Economic Analysis. Rev. ed.: 1947, 1948, 1971.

  • [This book] is intended as a text from which the student can learn and the teacher can teach the methods and results of economic analysis. It also seeks to be a contribution to the development and systematization of the body of economic analysis itself. These purposes are not separate. The task of presenting a systematic, orderly, and accurate account of economic analysis is identical with the task of preparing the material for teaching. It must be emphasized, however, that the purpose of this work is not primarily to entertain the student, or to enable him to regurgitate appropriate material into examination books, or to learn a few pat phrases, or to indoctrinate him with an abstract discipline which he will never use. Economics is like photography in this respect, that under-exposure is less desirable than no exposure at all.
    • p. xv
A distinguished economist, on being asked to define the subject matter of his science, once replied, "Economics is what economists do".
- Kenneth Boulding, 1941
Mathematicians themselves set up standards of generality and elegance in their exposition which are a bar to understand.
- Kenneth Boulding, 1941
  • A distinguished economist, on being asked to define the subject matter of his science, once replied, "Economics is what economists do."
    • p. 3
  • We have defined the main task of economic analysis as the explanation of the magnitudes of economic quantities. The student will find also that the main part of this, as of most other works on the subject, is concerned with the theory of the determination of prices, wages, interest rates, incomes, and the like. He may well inquire, therefore, in the midst of so much mathematics, whether the first task of economics is not the investigation of wealth, or welfare. Some economists have endeavored to restrict the boundaries of the science to the investigation of those quantities which are numerically measurable. Well-being, under such a restriction, would not be part of economics at all.
    • p. 7-8
  • Thus we seem to be on the verge of an expansion of welfare economics into something like a social science of ethics and politics: what was intended to be a mere porch to ethics is either the whole house or nothing at all. In so laying down its life welfare economics may be able to contribute some of its insights and analytical methods to a much broader evaluative analysis of the whole social process.
    • p. 34. (rev. ed. 1948) cited in: J.P. Roos (1973) Welfare Theory and Social Policy: A Study in Policy Science - Nummer 4. p. 102
  • [In this auction we may expect the article to be sold to] "the most eager buyer at a price which is just about the highest he is willing to pay, for in this case the most eager buyer does not know what prices the other buyers are willing to give [and] … each buyer fear that someone may slip in ahead of him.
    • p. 42 as cited in: Vernon L. Smith (1991) Papers in Experimental Economics. p. 516
  • Mathematicians themselves set up standards of generality and elegance in their exposition which are a bar to understand.
    • p. 236 (rev. ed. 1948) cited in: G.C. Harcourt, C. Sardoni (1992) On Political Economists and Modern Political Economy. Vol 4. p. 197
  • A firm may be defined as an institution which buys things, transforms them in some way, and then sells them with the purpose of making a profit. The things a firm buys we shall call "inputs." The things it sells we shall call "outputs." The process whereby the things it buys are transformed into the things it sells we shall call the "process of production." In any process of buying to sell again a process of production is always involved...
A business, therefore, is a process whereby certain inputs, valued in dollars in some way, are transformed into outputs, also valued in dollars in some way.
  • p. 377
  • Just as there are inputs which are supplied by the owner of a business, and whose value therefore is a "virtual," not an actual, expense, so there can be outputs which are consumed by the owner of a business, and whose value therefore forms.
    • p. 380
  • [The consumer is] the supreme mover of economic order... for whom all goods are made and towards whom all economic activity is directed.
    • p. 613 (rev. ed. 1948) as cited in: Andrew McMeekin (2002) Innovation by Demand. p. 131
  • The process of consumption... is the final act in the economic drama
    • p. 614 (rev. ed. 1948) as cited in: Andrew McMeekin (2002) Innovation by Demand. p. 131
  • There is reason for this shift of emphasis from any actual price to a hypothetical 'equilibrium' price. It is usually more interesting to know where a train is going than to know exactly where it is at any moment. The 'equilibrium' position of any price, wage, firm, industry, or system is the position toward which it is tending. The importance of equilibrium analysis, then, is that it enables us to discuss the directions of change. If a train is in New- York and its 'equilibrium' position is in Chicago, we are reasonably confident that the general direction of its motion will be westward, even if it unaccountably decides to travel north for the first hundred and fifty miles.
    • p. 637-638 (rev. ed. 1947); cited in Macroeconomische theorie ingeleid en voortgezet. Kluwer, 2006. p. 3

The theory of the firm in the last ten Years, 1942


Kenneth Boulding (1942) "The theory of the firm in the last ten Years" in: The American Economic Review. Vol. 32, No. 4, Dec., 1942. p. 791-802

  • It is probable that when future historians of economic thought look back over this century, the thirties will appear as an era of rapid development in economic theory. Not only has there been unusual activity in monetary theory, theory of value. but extensive transformations have also been made in the basic theory of value. The outstanding publications in this field are, of course, Joan Robinson's Theory of Imperfect Competition and Chamberlin's Theory of Monopolistic Competition, the first produced in Cambridge, England, and the second in Cambridge, Massachusetts. These volumes mark the explicit recognition of the theory of the firm as an integral division of economic analysis upon which rests the whole fabric of equilibrium theory. General equilibrium is nothing more than the problem of the interaction of individual economic organisms, under various conditions and assumptions; as a necessary preliminary to its solution, an adequate theory of the individual organism itself is necessary.
    • p. 791
  • The discounting presumably is to be done for each period of time at that rate of interest which represents the alternative cost of employing capital in the occupation in question; that is, at the rate which the entrepreneur could obtain in other investments
  • [The theory of the firm] is exactly analogous to the analysis of the reactions of a consumer by means of indifferent curves. Indeed, a consumer is merely a ‘firm’ whose product is ‘utility’.
    • p. 799
  • The use of isoquants to describe the production function did not develop to any great extent until the thirties.
    • p. 800 cited in: P. Lloyd (2012) "The Discovery of the Isoquant - History of Political Economy"

The Economics of Peace, 1945


Kenneth Boulding (1945) The Economics of Peace. Prentice Hall.

  • The main key to the economics of the postwar world is a simple truism — that the rate of accumulation is equal to the rate of production less the rate of consumption. This is the "Bathtub Theorem." Production may be likened to the flow of water from the faucet, consumption to the flow down the drain. The difference between these two flows is the rate at which the water in the bathtub - the total stockpile of all goods - is accumulating.
    War drains the economic bathtub in a great waste of consumption. The first problem of reconstruction is to rebuild the stockpile. It can be rebuilt only by widening the gap between production and consumption, or, in the case of a single country, by importing more than is exported. It is difficult for a ravaged country to increase either its production or its net imports. Unless it can obtain outside help, therefore, it must suffer a drastic restriction of consumption. Frequently the only way consumption can be restricted is by inflation. Here, therefore, is the key to the most fundamental problems of reconstruction.
    • Preface
  • This concept of capital-rebuilding is so important that it may be desirable to digress for a moment. In the broadest sense of the word, capital means the sum total of the valuable things possessed by the individuals of a society, excluding "claims," that is, mere titles to property. The word is used to mean both the inventory of these valuable things; the houses, factories, machines, livestock, stocks of raw materials, and goods in all stages of completion; and also to mean the sum of the values of these things. It should generally be clear from the context which of these two meanings is intended.
    • p. 5
Economic problems have no sharp edges. They shade off imperceptibly into politics, sociology, and ethics. Indeed, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that the ultimate answer to every economic problem lies in some other field.
- Kenneth Boulding, 1945
  • Reconstruction is merely a special case of economic progress. If we are to understand its problems thoroughly, we must examine what is meant by economic progress and try to discover how it comes about... Economic progress is not altogether easy to define and is even more difficult to measure. Nevertheless, the phrase clearly corresponds to a meaningful idea. We have only to contrast a savage society with our own. In a savage society, the same customs, the same techniques, the same ways of doing everything, from ploughing to praying, are maintained generation after generation, son following exactly in the footsteps of his father and daughter in the footsteps of her mother, without deviating an inch from the well-trodden way. In modern civilized society, on the other hand, there is constant change and flux; we are constantly improving on the methods of our ancestors, and indeed one of the surest ways to discredit anything is to call it "old-fashioned!"
    • p. 73
  • The profit motive should not be confused with the profit system. By the profit system, of course, we mean the institution of private property in capital goods and the free private enterprise that goes along with it. There is no reason why the "profit motive" should be necessarily connected with the profit system. In a profit system there is nothing to prevent anyone acting on altruistic lines; there is no law that says a businessman must maximize his profits. If a businessman chose to operate with outputs, prices, and wages that yielded him a smaller profit than the maximum, but which he felt were socially more desirable, there is nothing in the profit system that would prevent him from doing this. Nothing in the profit system would prevent the most ardent liberal from refusing an increase in wages, or from accepting an unpleasant and poorly paid job. At the other extreme, there is nothing in a communist system that would do away with the profit motive, or the "advantage motive."
    • p. 239
  • Economic problems have no sharp edges. They shade off imperceptibly into politics, sociology, and ethics. Indeed, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that the ultimate answer to every economic problem lies in some other field.
    • p. 252, quoted in Leonard Silk (1976) The Economists. New York: Basic Books. p. 208


  • We all, or nearly all, consent If wages rise by ten per cent It puts a choice before the nation Of unemployment or inflation.
    • Kenneth Boulding (1951) in: The impact of the Union: eight economic theorists evaluate the labor union movement. John Maurice Clark & David McCord Wright eds.
  • I seem to have come to much of the same conclusion as you have reached, though approaching it from the direction of economics and the social sciences rather than from biology - that there is a body of what have been calling "general empirical theory," or "general system theory" in your excellent terminology , which is of wide applicability in many different disciplines. I am sure there are many people all over the world who have come to essentially the same position that we have, but we are widely scattered and do not know each other, so difficult is it to cross the boundaries of the disciplines.
  • Theories without facts may be barren, but facts without theories are meaningless.
    • Attributed to Kenneth Boulding in: Association of American Colleges (1955) Liberal education. Vol. 41, p. 430
  • The controversy as to whether socialism is possible has been settled by the fact that it exists, and it is a fundamental axiom of my philosophy, at any rate, that anything that exists, is possible.
    • Kenneth Boulding (1957) Segments of the economy, 1956, a symposium: the Fifth Economics-in-Action Program sponsored jointly by Republic Steel Corporation and Case Institute of Technology
There will be movement toward behavioral economics... which involves study of those aspects of men’s images, or cognitive and affective structures that are more relevant to economic decisions.
- Kenneth Boulding, 1958
  • [There will be movement toward] behavioral economics... [which] involves study of those aspects of men’s images, or cognitive and affective structures that are more relevant to economic decisions.
    • Kenneth Boulding (1958) "Contemporary Economic Research".  In Donald P. Ray (ed.). Trends in Social Science, pp. 9-26. as cited in: James Alm (2011) Testing Behavioral Public Economics Theories in the Laboratory. Working paper.
    • Alm proceeds by stating: "Given the essential role of psychological insights in the field, together with the obvious truism that all economics concerns “behavior” in one form or another, a more descriptive name for the field is perhaps “cognitive economics”, as recognized early on by Boulding (1958)."
  • Accounting for the most part, remains a legalistic and traditional practice, almost immune to self-criticism by scientific methods.
    • Kenneth Boulding (1958, p. 95) as cited in: Edward Stamp, Michael J. Mumford, Ken V. Peasnell (1993) Philosophical Perspectives on Accounting. p. 147
  • In every field there is a need for writing where the main objective is to extend the reader's field of acquaintance with the complex cases of the real world. Such writing does not have to be very exact or quantitative; it does not even have to formulate or to demonstrate hypotheses. It constitutes, as it were, travel over the field of study. Travel is certainly not enough, even for a geographer, but we would feel, I imagine, that a geographer who had never travelled would be under a serious handicap. Similarly the student of organizations who has never, even vicariously through reading, been in a hospital, a bank, a research laboratory, a large corporation, a Soviet factory, a revolution, an Egyptian civil service department, and so on, has missed something. His generalizations are apt to be based on too narrow a selection of the field.
    • Kenneth Boulding (1958) "Evidences for an Administrative Science: A review of the Administrative Science Quarterly, volumes 1 and 2". In Administrative Science Quarterly. vol. 3, no. 1, pp. cited in: John Van Maanen (1998) Qualitative Studies of Organizations. p.xx
  • The thing that distinguishes social systems from physical or even biological systems is their incomparable (and embarrassing) richness in special cases. Generalizations in the social sciences are mere pathways which lead through a riotous forest of individual trees, each a species unto itself. The social scientist who loses this sense of the essential individuality and uniqueness of each case is all too likely to make a solemn scientific ass of himself, especially if he thinks that his faceless generalizations are the equivalents of the rich variety of the world.
    • Boulding (1958) "Evidences for an Administrative Science: A review of the Administrative Science Quarterly, volumes 1 and 2". In Administrative Science Quarterly. vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 14

A Reconstruction of Economics, 1950


Kenneth Boulding (1950) A Reconstruction of Economics. J. Wiley.

  • I have been gradually coming under the conviction, disturbing for a professional theorist, that there is no such thing as economics - there is only social science applied to economic problems.
    • p. vii
  • Reality, in its quantitative aspect, must be considered as a system of populations... The general study of the equilibria and dynamics of populations seems to have no name; but as it has probably reached its highest development in the biological study known as 'ecology,' this name may well be given to it.
In calling society an ecological system we are not merely using an analogy; society is an example of the general concept of an "ecosystem" that is, an ecological system of which biological systems--forests, fields, swamps--are other examples.
- Kenneth Boulding, 1950
  • In calling society an ecological system we are not merely using an analogy; society is an example of the general concept of an "ecosystem" that is, an ecological system of which biological systems--forests, fields, swamps--are other examples.
    • p. 6

The Organizational Revolution: A study in the ethics of economic organization, 1953


Kenneth Boulding (1953) The Organizational Revolution: A Study in the Ethics of Economic Organization, Harper & Brothers. (2e ed. 1968 Chicago: Quadrangle Books)

Almost every organization... exhibits two faces — a smiling face which it turns toward its members and a frowning face which it turns to the world outside.
- Kenneth Boulding, 1953.
  • Almost every organization... exhibits two faces — a smiling face which it turns toward its members and a frowning face which it turns to the world outside.
  • The organizer who creates roles, who creates the holes that will force the pegs to their shape, is a prime creator of personality itself. When we ask of a man, "What is he?" the answer is usually given in terms of his major role, job, or position in society; he is the place that he fills, a painter, a priest, a politician, a criminal.
    • p. 80, quoted in: Paul S. Adler eds. (2009) The Oxford Handbook of Sociology and Organization Studies: Classical Foundations. p. 552
  • [Boulding's belief in] the immediate experience of the Holy Spirit, or Inward Light, available to every man to teach, guide, reprove, and draw him up toward goodness.

General Systems Theory - The Skeleton of Science, 1956


Kenneth Boulding (1956). "General systems theory - the skeleton of science" in: Management Science, Vol.2. No. 3. (April 1956), p. 197-208 Reprinted in: General Systems, Vol. 1, p. 1-10

  • General Systems Theory is a name which has come into use to describe a level of theoretical model-building which lies somewhere between the highly generalized constructions of pure mathematics and the specific theories of the specialized disciplines. Mathematics attempts to organize highly general relationships into a coherent system, a system however which does not have any necessary connections with the "real" world around us. It studies all thinkable relationships abstracted from any concrete situation or body of empirical knowledge.
    • p. 197: Opening sentences
  • Knowledge is not something which exists and grows in the abstract. It is a function of human organisms and of social organization. Knowledge, that is to say, is always what somebody knows: the most perfect transcript of knowledge in writing is not knowledge if nobody knows it. Knowledge however grows by the receipt of meaningful information - that is, by the intake of messages by a knower which are capable of reorganising his knowledge.
    • p. 197
  • Two possible approaches to the organization of general systems theory suggest themselves, which are to be thought of as complementary rather than competitive, or at least as two roads each of which is worth exploring. The first approach is to look over the empirical universe and to pick out certain general phenomena which are found in many different disciplines, and to seek to build up general theoretical models relevant to these phenomena. The second approach is to arrange the empirical fields in a hierarchy of complexity of organization of their basic "individual" or unit of behavior, and to try to develop a level of abstraction appropriate to each.
    • p. 200
  • A second possible approach to general systems theory is through the arrangement of theoretical systems and constructs in a hierarchy of complexity, roughly corresponding to the complexity of the "individuals" of the various empirical fields... leading towards a "system of systems."… I suggest below a possible arrangement of "levels" of theoretical discourse.
    (i) The first level is that of the static structure. It might be called the level of frameworks...
    (ii) The next level of systematic analysis is that of the simple dynamic system with predetermined, necessary motions...
    (iii) The next level is that of the control mechanism or cybernetic system, which might be nicknamed the level of the thermostat...
    (iv) The fourth level is that of the "open system," or self-maintaining structure...
    (v) The fifth level might be called the genetic~societal level; it is typified by the plant, and it dominates the empirical world of the botanist.
    (vi) … the "animal" level, characterized by increased mobility, teleological behavior and self-awareness...
    (vii) The next level is the "human" level, that is of the individual human being considered as a system...
    (viii) Because of the vital importance for the individual man of symbolic images and behavior based on them it is not easy to separate clearly the level of the individual human organism from the next level, that of social organizations...
    (ix) To complete the structure of systems we should add a final turret for transcendental systems...
    • p. 200-201
  • One advantage of exhibiting a hierarchy of systems in this way is that it gives us some idea of the present gaps in both theoretical and empirical knowledge. Adequate theoretical models extend up to about the fourth level, and not much beyond. Empirical knowledge is deficient at practically all levels.
    • p. 201, quoted in: John P. Cole, Cuchlaine A. M. King (1969) Quantitative geography: techniques and theories in geography. p. 575

The Image: Knowledge in Life and Society, 1956


Kenneth Boulding (1951) The Image: Knowledge in Life and Society. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press (2e ed. 1961)

  • As I sit at my desk, I know where I am. I see before me a window; beyond that some trees; beyond that the red roofs of the campus of Stanford University; beyond them the trees and the roof tops which mark the town of Palo Alto; beyond them the bare golden hills of the Hamilton Range... beyond that other mountains, range upon range, until we come to the Rockies; beyond that the Great Plains and the Mississippi; beyond that the Alleghenies; beyond that the eastern seaboard; beyond that the Atlantic Ocean; beyond that is Europe; beyond that is Asia. I know, furthermore, that if I go far enough I will come back to where I am now. In other words, I have a picture of the earth as round. I visualize it as a globe. I am a little hazy on some of the details... I probably could not draw a very good map of Indonesia, but I have a fair idea where everything is located on the face of this globe. Looking further, I visualize the globe as a small speck circling around a bright star which is the sun, in the company of many other similar specks, the planets. Looking still further, I see our star the sun as a member of millions upon millions of others in the Galaxy. Looking still further, I visualize the Galaxy as one of millions upon millions of others in the universe.
    • p. 3 Introduction
Even the mechanism can be endowed with an image. Thus... the thermostat has an image of the outside world in the shape of information regarding its temperature.
- Kenneth Boulding, 1956
  • What I have been talking about is knowledge. Knowledge, perhaps, is not a good word for this. Perhaps one would rather say my image of the world. Knowledge has an implication of validity, of truth. What I am talking about is what I believe to be true; my subjective knowledge. It is this Image that largely governs my behavior. In about an hour I shall rise, leave my office, go to a car, drive down to my home, play with the children, have supper, perhaps read a book, go to bed. I can predict this behavior with a fair degree to accuracy because of the knowledge which I have: the knowledge that I have a home not far away, to which I am accustomed to go. The prediction, of course, may not be fulfilled. There may be an earthquake, I may have an accident with the car on the way home, I may get home to find that my family has been suddenly called away. A hundred and one things may happen. As each event occurs, however, it alters my knowledge structure or my image. And as it alters my image, I behave accordingly. The first proposition of this work, therefore, is that behavior depends on the image.
    • p. 5
  • [Even the mechanism can be endowed with an image. Thus] the thermostat has an image of the outside world in the shape of information regarding its temperature. It has also a value system in the sense of the ideal temperature at which it is set. Its behavior is directed towards the receipt of information which will bring its image and its value systems together
  • The human being, on the other hand, is firmly located in a temporal process. He has an image of the past which extends back far beyond the limits of his own life and experience, and he likewise has an image of the future. Closely associated with the time structure of his image is the image of the structure of relationships. Because we are aware of time, we are also aware of cause and effect, of contiguity and succession, of cycles and repetition. The image of man is also characterized by a much greater degree of self-consciousness and of self-awareness than that of the lower animals. We not only know, but we know that we know. This reflective character of the human image is unique, and is what leads to philosophy.
    • p. 25
  • Because of his capacity for abstract communications and language and his ability to enter in imagination into the lives of others, man is able to build organizations of a size and complexity far beyond those of the lower animals.
    • p. 26 quoted in: Research in Ethical Issues in Organizations - Volume 1 (1999). p. 159
  • The basic bond of any society, culture, subculture, or organization is 'a public image.
    • p. 64, cited in: Carl H. Botan, Vincent Hazleton (2006) Public Relations Theory Two. p. 349. Botan & Hazleton explain: "Citizens have particular images (or conceptions) of their own nation in relations to other nations, and those images reflect specific values and emotions. People in one nation make attributions about those living in other nations even when they have not visited a particular country. When individuals discuss their personal images with others, they contribute to the creation of public images. The public images of nation-states emanate from a “universe of discourse” (Boulding, 1956, p. 15)."
  • If a totally new image is to come into being however, there must be sensitivity to internal messages, the image itself must be sensitive to change, must be unstable, and it must include a value image which places high value on trials, experiments, and the trying of new things.
    • p. 94 as cited in: Richard Arena, Agnés Festrè, Nathalie Lazaric (2012) Handbook of Economics and Knowledge. p. 138
  • In this chapter I want to raise the question partly in jest but partly also in seriousness whether the concept of the image cannot become the abstract foundation of a new science, or at least a cross-disciplinary specialization. As I am indulging in the symbolic communication of an image of images I will even venture to give the science a name — Eiconics — hoping thereby to endow it in the minds of my readers with some of the prestige of classical antiquity. I run some risk perhaps of having my new science confused with the study of icons. A little confusion, however, and the subtle overtones of half-remembered associations are all part of the magic of the name.
    • p. 128
    • Robert A. Solo (1994) commented: "Curiously, and quite independently of the publication of the The Image, there did occur in the 1950s and in the decades that followed a revolutionary transformation of the social and behavioral sciences associated with the term structuralism, which hinged on the concept and study of the image (call it cognitive structure, or paradigm, or episteme, or ideology). This was the case in the work of Jean Piaget in psychology, of Thomas Kuhn and Michael Foucault in the history and philosophy of science, of Noam Chomsky in linguistics, of Claude Levi Strauss in anthropology, and others. Though The Image was the first and in my view by far the finest American structuralist essay, it had no visible impact on economics... The economist's image of his world is alas very difficult to penetrate and even more difficult to change."

The Skills of the Economist, 1958


Kenneth Ewart Boulding (1958) The Skills of the Economist Cleveland: Howard Allen.

  • There is something, however humble, which can properly be called skill among those who recognise themselves as economists.
    • p. 4; quoted in Andrew Mearman (2011) "Three cheers for Kenneth Boulding!", who further commented: "Boulding (1958) defined economics in terms of what economists are or, from Viner, what economists do. Further, Boulding holds that there are skills which are unique to economists."
The ability to work with systems of general equilibrium is perhaps one of the most important skills of the economist
- Kenneth Boulding, 1958
  • It is important to realize that the exercise of any skill depends on the ability to create an abstract system of some kind out of the totality of the world around us. For instance, the carpenter is not interested in wood as a biological or chemical entity. He is sensitive to many of its grosser physical properties but not to many subtler ones. The wood of a carpenter is not the real — that is, the complete substance — but merely wood as a material on which the carpenter can exercise his skill.
    • p. 9
  • [The notion of equilibrium ] is a notion which can be employed usefully in varying degrees of looseness. It is an absolutely indispensable part of the toolbag of the economist and one which he can often contribute usefully to other sciences which are occasionally apt to get lost in the trackless exfoliations of purely dynamic systems.
    • p. 14
  • The ability to work with systems of general equilibrium is perhaps one of the most important skills of the economist — a skill which he shares with many other scientists, but in which he has perhaps a certain comparative advantage.
    • p. 15
  • It is clear that the building of models is not a purely mechanical process but requires skill of a high order – not merely mathematical skill but a sensitivity to the relative importance of different factors and a critical, almost an artistic, faculty in the selection of behaviour equations which are reasonable, tentative hypotheses in explaining the behaviour of actual economies.
    • p. 16-17 as cited in Andrew Mearman (2011).
  • One of the most important skills of the economist, therefore, is that of simplification of the model. Two important methods of simplification have been developed by economists. One is the method of partial equilibrium analysis (or microeconomics), generally associated with the name of Alfred Marshall and the other is the method of aggregation (or macro-economics), associated with the name of John Maynard Keynes.
    • p. 19
  • Without the heroic, man has no meaning; without the economic, he has no sense. Economic man is most likely to be economic woman — a good wife, pulling the coat tails of her heroic husband, checking his extravagances of speech and action with words of caution and good sense. But without the heroic coat tails to pull, life for both of them would be dull and savorless indeed.
    • p. 183

Principles of economic policy, 1958


Kenneth Boulding (1958) Principles of economic policy

  • The word 'policy' generally refers to the principles that govern action directed towards given ends. Any study of policy therefore should concern itself with three things — what we want (the ends), how we get it (the means), and who are 'we,' that is, what is the nature of the organization or group concerned. Science is concerned with means rather than with ends. The study of "what we want" (objectives) extends beyond the boundaries of the social sciences into the field of ethics. It is not the business of the social sciences to evaluate the ultimate ends of human activity. The social sciences, therefore, cannot give a final answer to the question whether any given policy is right. The social scientist can study what people say they want, what they think they want and may even infer from their behaviour what they really want, but it is not the business of science to say whether people want right things.
    • p. 1-2
Private property is a means, and neither its abolition nor its unrestricted right should be an end in itself.
- Kenneth Boulding, 1958
  • Economic progress... means the discovery and application of better ways of doing things to satisfy our wants. The piping of water to a household that previously dragged it from a well, the growing of two blades of grass where one grew before, the development of a power loom that enables one man to weave ten times as much as he could before, the use of steam power and electric power instead of horse or human power — all these things clearly represent economic progress.
    • p. 23
    • Remark: Kenneth Boulding gave the same example in his 1945 The economics of peace, p. 74
  • Justification, in terms of the broadening of freedom, for any particular form of institution of property must be argued in terms of whether the losses caused by the restrictions imposed are greater or less than the gains derived from the elimination of costly conflict.
    • p. 119 cited in: Warren J. Samuels, James M. Buchanan (2007) The Legal-Economic Nexus. p. 54
  • Private property is a means, and neither its abolition nor its unrestricted right should be an end in itself
    • p. 400

National images and international systems, 1959


Kenneth Boulding (1959) "National images and international systems". In: The Journal of Conflict Resolution. Vol. 3, No. 2 (Jun., 1959), pp. 120-131

  • An international system consists of a group of interacting behavior units called "nations" or "countries," to which may sometimes be added certain supra-national organizations, such as the United Nations. Each of the behavior units in the system can be described in terms of a set of "relevant variables." Just what is relevant and what is not is a matter of judgment of the system-builder, but we think of such things as states of war or peace, degrees of hostility or friendliness, alliance or enmity, arms budgets, geographic extent, friendly or hostile communications, and so on. Having defined our variables, we can then proceed to postulate certain relationships between them, sufficient to define a path for all the variables through time. Thus we might suppose, with Lewis Richardson that the rate of change of hostility of one nation toward a second depends on the level of hostility in the second and that the rate of change of hostility of the second toward the first depends on the level of hostility of the first. Then, if we start from given levels of hostility in each nation, these equations are sufficient to spell out what happens to these levels in succeeding time periods.
    • p. 120-121
  • Nations are divided into "good"and "bad"-the enemy is all bad, one's own nation is of spotless virtue. Wars are either acts of God or acts of the other nations, which always catch us completely by surprise. To a student of international systems the national image even of respectable, intellectual, and powerful people seems naive and untrue. The patriotism of the sophisticated cannot be a simple faith. There is, however, in the course of human history a powerful and probably irreversible movement toward sophistication. We can wise up, but we cannot wise down, except at enormous cost in the breakdown of civilizations, and not even a major breakdown results in much loss of knowledge.
    • p. 131


  • In spite of the moderate usefulness of what the economist has to say on this subject... there is a cry for a cultural anthropologist or even a psychologist when the economist runs into sacred cows, extended families, traditional motivations, levels of achievement, and social morale, all of which may be more important to economic development than any of the traditional economic variables. We still await a true synthesis of the insights of economics with those of other social sciences in the area
    • Kenneth Boulding (1961). "Contemporary economic research: . In Donald P. Ray (Ed.) Trends in social science. p..19 cited in: Erik Angner & George Loewenstein (2006) Behavioral Economics
  • In view of the importance of philanthropy in our society, it is surprising that so little attention has been given to it by economic or social theorists. In economic theory, especially, the subject is almost completely ignored. This is not, I think, because economists regard mankind as basically selfish or even because economic man is supposed to act only in his self-interest; it is rather because economics has essentially grown up around the phenomenon of exchange and its theoretical structure rests heavily on this process.
    • Kenneth Boulding (1962) "Notes on a Theory of Philanthropy" in: Philanthropy and Public Policy. Frank G. Dickinson, ed., New York, National Bureau of Economic Research.
  • We face the dilemma... that if everyone gets his deserts, some may be driven from the table: and if everyone comes to the table, some may not get their deserts. In practice, this seems to be resolved by the establishment of a social minimum as reflected for instance, in the poor law, in social security and various welfare services. The principle of desert come into play above this social minimum. That is to say, society lays a modest table at which all can sup and a high table at which the deserving can feast
    • Boulding (1962) "Social Justice in Social Dynamics", in: R.B. Brandt, ed. Social Justice. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. p. 83 as cited in: Toril Aalberg (2003) Achieving Justice: Comparative Public Opinion on Income Distribution. p. 33
In the imagination of those who are sensitive to the realities of our era, the earth has become a space ship, and this, perhaps, is the most important single fact of our day.
- Kenneth Boulding, 1965
  • In the imagination of those who are sensitive to the realities of our era, the earth has become a space ship, and this, perhaps, is the most important single fact of our day. For millennia, the earth in men's minds was flat and illimitable. Today, as a result of exploration, speed, and the explosion of scientific knowledge, earth has become a tiny sphere, closed, limited, crowded, and hurtling through space to unknown destinations. This change in man's image of his home affects his behaviour in many ways, and is likely to affect it much more in the future.
    • Kenneth Boulding (1965) Earth as a Spaceship Lecture May 10, 1965, Washington State University, Committee on Spaces Sciences
  • A somewhat casual observer from outer space might well deduce that the course of evolution in this planet had produced a species of large four-wheeled bugs with detachable brains; peculiar animals which rested when they sent their brains away from them but performed in rather predictable manner when their brains were recalled.
    • Kenneth Boulding (1966) Economics and Ecology. p. 225
  • The concept of need is often looked upon rather unfavorably by economists, in contrast with the concept of demand. Both, however, have their own strengths and weaknesses. The need concept is criticized as being too mechanical, as denying the autonomy and individuality of the human person, and as implying that the human being is a machine which "needs" fuel in the shape of food, engine dope in the shape of medicine, and spare parts provided by the surgeon.
    • Kenneth Boulding (1967) "The Concept of Need for Health Services" in: The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly. Vol. 44, No. 4, Part 2, pp. 202
  • One demand for a concept of need arises because the concept of demand itself has serious weaknesses and limitations. It assumes away, for instance, a serious epistemological problem. The very idea of autonomous choice implies first that the chooser knows the real alternatives which are open to him, and second that he makes the choice according to value criteria or a utility function which he will not later regret. Both the image of the field of choice and the utility function have a learning problem which, by and large, economists have neglected. This problem is particularly acute in the case of medical care, where the demander is usually a layman faced with professional suppliers who know very much more than he does. The demand for medical care, indeed, is primarily a demand for knowledge or at least the results of knowledge...
    • Kenneth Boulding (1967) "The Concept of Need for Health Services" as cited in: Gregory Parston (1980) Planners, Politics, and Health Services. p. 99

Conflict and defense: A general theory, 1962


Kenneth Boulding (1964) Conflict and defense: A general theory

  • It seems reasonable to suppose that conflict does exhibit many general patterns, that the patterns of conflict in industrial relations, international relations, interpersonal relations, and even animal life are not wholly different from one another, and that it is, therefore, worth looking for the common element. On the other hand, we should be surprised if there were no differences; the pattern of conflict in international relations, for instance, is not the same as in industrial or interpersonal relations. Just as it is important to perceive the similarities in different situations, so it is important to perceive the differences. These differences cannot be perceived, however, without a general theory to serve as a standard of comparison.
Conflict may be defined as a situation of competition in which the parties are aware of the incompatibility of potential future positions, and in which each party wishes to occupy a position that is incompatible with the wishes of the other.
- Kenneth Boulding, 1963
  • Before we can proceed to a formal definition of conflict we must examine another concept, that of behavior space. The position of a behavior unit at a moment of time is defined by a set of values (subset, to be technical) of a set of variables that defines the behavior unit. These variables need not be continuous or quantitatively measurable. The different values of a variable must, however, be capable of simple ordering; that is, of any two values it must be possible to say that one is 'after' (higher, lefter, brighter than) the other.
    • p. 3
    • Peace Science Society (International) (1975) Papers - Volumes 24-29. p. 53 summarized: "Boulding begins by explaining what he believes are the four basic concepts to describe a conflict in an analytical way : (1) the party; (2) the behavior space; (3) competition; (4) conflict."
  • Conflict may be defined as a situation of competition in which the parties are aware of the incompatibility of potential future positions, and in which each party wishes to occupy a position that is incompatible with the wishes of the other.
    • p. 5
  • [The loss- of-strength gradient is] the degree to which military and political power diminishes as we move a unit distance away from its home base.
    • p. 245
    • According to Marike Finlay (1987) Powermatics: A Discursive Critique of New Technology. p. 200 with this statement "Kenneth Boulding has shown, the extent of control is a function of loss-of-strength gradient of a political centre."
  • A distinction does not have to be clear to be important, and, at some point, there is a common-sense dividing line between procedural and violent conflict. Violence is most closely associated with conquest as a form of conflict settlement, though violence is descriptive of a conflict process rather than of a conflict settlement. It is quite possible, for instance, for conquest to be nonviolent, that is, for one party to be absorbed in another or for one organization to be dissolved by strictly procedural means. Departments are organized out of existence, countries are federated or united, organizations are laid down, and firms are bankrupted by purely procedural processes, without more than perhaps a trace of legal coercion lurking in the background.
    • p. 323

The meaning of the twentieth century: the great transition, 1964


Kenneth Boulding (1964) The Meaning of the Twentieth Century: The Great Transition

  • Another indication of the magnitude of the present transition is the fact that, as far as many statistical series related to activities of mankind are concerned, the date that divides human history into two equal parts is well within living memory.
    • p. 7
  • The success of Japanese development is due simply to the fact that Japan devoted a substantial portion of its resources to the growth industry, and particularly to the human resources and then commended Max Weber's emphasis on hard work and thrift.
    All the law and the prophets of economic development can be summed up in the old proverb that "where there's a will there's a way". The way indeed is absurdly easy and is well known. It consists merely in putting resources into growth. What could be simpler and easier! the problem however, is the will, and this. I think, we understand very little. The whole cultural milieu of society plays a role in the process of developing its will, and it is hard to separate the determining factors. A widespread puritan ethic, as Max Weber pointed out, is undoubtedly an asset, if this leads people to place a high value on hard work and thrift. On the other hand, puritanism often goes along with a resistance to social change and an unwillingness to innovate outside a narrow field of technology, and thrift alone can often lead to uncreative forms of accumulation or even to unemployment and depression. Mere accumulation is not enough. Economic development does not consist merely in the piling up of things, but in the accumulation of new kinds of things.
  • It is an arithmetic, moreover, which cannot be denied even though we nearly all try to deny it. The arithmetic is simply this: Any positive rate of growth whatever eventually carries a human population to an unacceptable magnitude, no matter how small the rate of growth may be unless the rate of population growth can be reduced to zero before the population reaches an unacceptable magnitude. There is a famous theorem in economics, one which I call the dismal theorem, which states that if the only thing which can check the growth of population is starvation and misery, then the population will grow until it is sufficiently miserable and starving to check its growth. There is a second, even worse theorem which I call the utterly dismal theorem. It says that if the only thing which can check the growth of population is starvation and misery, then the ultimate result of any technological improvement is to enable a larger number of people to live in misery than before and hence to increase the total sum of human misery.
    • p. 126
the epistemological question... I am particularly concerned here is that of the role of knowledge in social systems, both as a product of the past and as a determinant of the future.
- Kenneth Boulding, 1966

The economics of knowledge and the knowledge of economics, 1966


Kenneth Boulding (1966) "The economics of knowledge and the knowledge of economics". in: American Economic Review, May 16. p. 1-13.

  • What might be called, perhaps somewhat grandiloquently, the Epistemological Question has received rather scant attention at the hands of economists. There are, of course, a number of epistemological questions, some of which lie more in the province of the philosopher than they do the economist or the social scientist. The one with which I am particularly concerned here is that of the role of knowledge in social systems, both as a product of the past and as a determinant of the future.
  • There are, of course, a number of epistemological questions, some of which lie more in the province of the philosopher than they do the economist or the social scientist. The one with which I am particularly concerned here is that of the role of knowledge in social systems, both as a product of the past and as a determinant of the future.
    • p. 1
  • Economists can take a good deal of credit for the stabilization policies which have been followed in most Western countries since 1945 with considerable success. It is easy to generate a euphoric and self-congratulatory mood when one compares the twenty years after the first World War, 1919-39, with the twenty years after the second, 1945-65. The first twenty years were a total failure; the second twenty years, at least as far as economic policy is concerned, have been a modest success. We have not had any great depression; we have not had any serious financial collapse; and on the whole we have had much higher rates of development in most parts of the world than we had in the 1920’s and 1930’s, even though there are some conspicuous failures. Whether the unprecedented rates of economic growth of the last twenty years, for instance in Japan and Western Europe, can be attributed to economics, or whether they represent a combination of good luck in political decision making with the expanding impact of the natural and biological sciences on the economy, is something we might argue. I am inclined to attribute a good deal to good luck and non-economic forces, but not all of it, and even if economics only contributed 10 percent, this would amount to a very handsome rate of return indeed, considering the very small amount of resources we have really put into economics.
    • p. 9

The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth, 1966


Kenneth Boulding (1966) "The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth". In H. Jarrett (ed.) 1966. Environmental Quality in a Growing Economy. pp. 3-14.

  • We are now in the middle of a long process of transition in the nature of the image which man has of himself and his environment. Primitive men, and to a large extent also men of the early civilizations, imagined themselves to be living on a virtually illimitable plane. There was almost always somewhere beyond the known limits of human habitation, and over a very large part of the time that man has been on earth, there has been something like a frontier...
    Gradually, however, man has been accustoming himself to the notion of the spherical earth and a closed sphere of human activity. A few unusual spirits among the ancient Greeks perceived that the earth was a sphere. It was only with the circumnavigations and the geographical explorations of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, however, that the fact that the earth was a sphere became at all widely known and accepted. Even in the thirteenth century, the commonest map was Mercator's projection, which visualizes the earth as an illimitable cylinder, essentially a plane wrapped around the globe, and it was not until the Second World War and the development of the air age that the global nature of tile planet really entered the popular imagination. Even now we are very far from having made the moral, political, and psychological adjustments which are implied in this transition from the illimitable plane to the closed sphere.
    • p. 3
  • The closed economy of the future might similarly be called the 'spaceman' economy, in which the earth has become a single spaceship, without unlimited reservoirs of anything, either for extraction or for pollution, and in which, therefore, man must find his place in a cyclical ecological system
    • p. 8
It is absurd to suppose we can think of nature as a system apart from knowledge, for it is knowledge that is increasingly determining the course of nature
- Kenneth Boulding, 1968
  • The essential measure of the success of the economy is not production and consumption at all, but the nature, extent, quality, and complexity of the total capital stock, including in this the state of the human bodies and minds included in the system. In the spaceman economy, what we are primarily concerned with is stock maintenance, and any technological change which results in the maintenance of a given total stock with a lessened throughput (that is, less production and consumption) is clearly a gain. This idea that both production and consumption are bad things rather than good things is very strange to economists, who have been obsessed with tile income-flow concepts to the exclusion, almost, of capital-stock concepts.
    • p. 9-10 as cited in: Mark W. W. McElroy, J.M.L. M. L. van van Engelen (2012) Corporate Sustainability Management.

Beyond Economics: Essays on Society, 1968


Kenneth Boulding (1968) Beyond Economics: Essays on Society, Religion, and Ethics. University of Michigan Press. (2e ed. 1970)

  • It is absurd to suppose we can think of nature as a system apart from knowledge, for it is knowledge that is increasingly determining the course of nature
    • p. 141 as cited in John Laurent (2003) Evolutionary Economics and Human Nature. p. 175
  • It [knowledge] is clearly related to information, which we can now measure; and an economist especially is tempted to regard knowledge as a kind of capital structure, corresponding to information as an income flow. Knowledge, that is to say, is some kind of improbable structure or stock made up essentially of patterns — that is, improbable arrangements, and the more improbable the arrangements, we might suppose, the more knowledge there is.
    • p. 142
  • The idea of knowledge as an improbable structure is still a good place to start. Knowledge, however, has a dimension which goes beyond that of mere information or improbability. This is a dimension of significance which is very hard to reduce to quantitative form. Two knowledge structures might be equally improbable but one might be much more significant than the other.
    • p. 142

Economics As A Moral Science, 1969


Kenneth Boulding (1969) "Economics As A Moral Science". In: American Economic Review March 1969, 59 (1), p. 1-12 .

  • Let me first explain, then, what I mean by moral and moral science. A moral or ethical proposition, is a statement about a rank order of preference among alternatives, which is intended to apply to more than one person. A preference which applies to one person only is a taste. Statements of this kind are often called "value judgments." If someone says, "I prefer A to B," this is a personal value judgment, or a taste. If he says, "A is better than B," there is an implication that he expects other people to prefer A to B also, as well as himself. A moral proposition then is a "common value".
    • p. 1
Adam Smith, who has strong claim to being both the Adam and the Smith of systematic economics, was a professor of moral philosophy and it was at that forge that economics was made.
- Kenneth Boulding, 1969
  • No science of any kind can be divorced from ethical considerations... Science is a human learning process which arises in certain subcultures in human society and not in others, and a subculture as we seen is a group of people defined by acceptance of certain common values, that is, an ethic which permits extensive communication between them.
  • The concept of a value-free science is absurd.
    • p. 4 cited in: John B. Davis (2011)
  • Adam Smith, who has strong claim to being both the Adam and the Smith of systematic economics, was a professor of moral philosophy and it was at that forge that economics was made. Even when I was a student, economics was still part of the moral sciences tripos at Cambridge University. It can claim to be a moral science, therefore, from its origin, if for no other reason. Nevertheless, for many economists the very term “moral science” will seem like a contradiction. We are strongly imbued today with the view that science should be wertfrei and we believe that science has achieved its triumph precisely because it has escaped the swaddling clothes of moral judgment and has only been able to take off into the vast universe of the “is” by escaping from the treacherous launching pad of the “ought.” Even economics, we learn in the history of thought, only became a science by escaping from the casuistry and moralizing of medieval thought.
    • p. 12
  • Every culture, or subculture, is defined by a set of common values, that is, generally agreed upon preferences. Without a core of common values a culture cannot exist, and we classify society into cultures and subcultures precisely because it is possible to identify groups who have common values.
    • p. 12
  • Even personal tastes are learned, in the matrix of a culture or a subculture in which we grow up, by very much the same kind of process by which we learn our common values. Purely personal tastes, indeed, can only survive in a culture which tolerates them, that is, which has a common value that private tastes of certain kinds should be allowed.
    • p. 12


  • There is a kind of second law of cultural dynamics which states simply that when anything has been done, it cannot be done again. In other words, we start off any system with a potential for novelty which is gradually exhausted. We see this in every field of human life, in the arts as well as the sciences. Once Beethoven has written the Ninth Symphony, nobody else can do it. Consequently, we find that in any evolutionary process, even in the arts, the search for novelty becomes corrupting. The "entropy trap" is perhaps the most subtle and the most fundamental of the obstacles toward realising the developed society...
    • Kenneth Boulding (1970) "The Science Revelation". In: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. (Sept 1970) Vol. 26, nr. 7. p. 16
  • Perhaps the most difficult ethical problem of the scientific community arises not so much from conflict with other subcultures as from its own success. Nothing fails like success because we don't learn from it. We learn only from failure.
    • Kenneth Boulding (1971) "The diminishing returns of science" in: New Scientist. (March 25, 1971) Vol. 49, nr. 744. p. 682
  • The organization of science into disciplines sets up a series of ghettos with remarkable distances of artificial social space between them.
    • Kenneth Boulding (1973) Image and Environment. p. ix
  • The human condition can almost be summed up in the observation that, whereas all experiences are of the past, all decisions are about the future. It is the great task of human knowledge to bridge this gap and to find those patterns in the past which can be projected into the future as realistic images.
  • The troubles of the 20th century are not unlike those of adolescence -- rapid growth beyond the ability of organizations to manage, uncontrollable emotion, and a desperate search for identity. Out of adolescence, however, comes maturity in which physical growth with all its attendant difficulties comes to an end, but in which growth continues in knowledge, in spirit, in community, and in love; it is to this that we look forward as a human race. This goal, once seen with our eyes, will draw our faltering feet toward it.
    • Kenneth Boulding, 1973, p. 21 as cited in: Donald W. Cole (1983) Conflict resolution technology. p. 5
  • Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.
    • Attributed to Kenneth Boulding in: United States. Congress. House (1973) Energy reorganization act of 1973: Hearings, Ninety-third Congress, first session, on H.R. 11510. p. 248
  • My first acquaintance with the work of Dr. Fred Polak came in the year 1954–5, when we were both fellows at the new Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. Dr. and Mrs. Polak lived in a little house at the back of the garden of the house that the Bouldings rented and participated very cheerfully in the life of the Bouldings and their four young children. Many exciting things came out of that year at Stanford, such as the Society for General Systems Research and the Journal of Conflict Resolution. But looking back on the expérience after nearly twenty years, I think the most important impact on the thought of both Elise Boulding and myself were the many conversations that we had with the Polaks around the dining table and in the garden.
    • Kenneth Boulding (1973) in: Foreword of The Image of the Future by Fred Polak.
  • [The historical] development in the international system may almost be defined as the process by which we pass from stable war to stable peace.
    • Kenneth Boulding (1975), International Systems: Peace, Conflict Resolution, and Politics. p. 375 as cited in: Bjørn Møller, Håkan Wiberg (1994) Non-offensive defence for the twenty-first century. p. 36
  • Knowledge exists in minds, not in books. Before what has been found can be used by practitioners, someone must organize it, integrate it, extract the message
    • Attributed to Kenneth Boulding (1976) in John T. Partington, Terry Orlick, John H. Salmela (1982) Sport in perspective. p. 94
  • They, economics and evolution, are both examples of a larger process, which has been at work in this part of the universe for a very long time. This is the process of the development of structures of increasing complexity and improbability. The evolutionary process always operates through mutation and selection and has involved some distinction between the genotype which mutates and the phenotype which is selected. The process by which the genotype constructs the phenotype may be described as "organization". Economic development manifesto itself largely in the production of commodities, that is, goods and services. It originates, however, in ideas, plans, and attitudes in the human mind. These are the genotypes in economic development. This whole process indeed can be described as a process in the growth of knowledge. What the economist calls "capital" is nothing more than human knowledge imposed on the material world. Knowledge and the growth of knowledge, therefore, is the essential key to economic development. Investment, financial systems and economic organizations and institutions are in a sense only the machinery by which a knowledge process is created and expressed.
    • Kenneth Boulding (1977) Economic Development as an Evolutionary System, Fifth World Congress of the International Economic Association, Tokyo, Aug.-Sept. 1977.
  • [The question for the behavioral disciplines is simply] what is better, and how do we get there?
    • Kenneth Boulding (1977) as cited in: Association for Humanist Sociology US (1997) Humanity & society. Vol.21, p. 56
  • If there is one idea that has dominated the history of the United States, it is the idea of progress. Yet analyses of this idea are surprisingly rare. Furthermore, in spite of having been founded by a rather small revolution, the dominant dynamic of the United States has been evolutionary, through social mutation (invention), production, and selection. In this paper, therefore, I propose to look at the larger question of the nature of evolutionary change, and the conditions under which change can be identified as progress.

Economics As a Science, 1970


Kenneth E. Boulding (1970) Economics As a Science. McGraw-Hill (2e ed. 1988)

  • It is almost as hard to define mathematics as it is to define economics, and one is tempted to fall back on the famous old definition attributed to Jacob Viner, “Economics is what economists do,” and say that mathematics is what mathematicians do. A large part of mathematics deals with the formal relations of quantities or numbers.
    • p. 97
  • Economics, we learn in the history of thought, only became a science by escaping from the casuistry and moralizing of medieval thought.
    • p. 117
  • If the society toward which we are developing is not to be a nightmare of exhaustion, we must use the interlude of the present era to develop a new technology which is based on a circular flow of materials such that the only sources of man's provisions will be his own waste products.
    • p. 147

The Economy of Love and Fear, 1973


Kenneth E. Boulding (1973) The economy of love and fear; a preface to grants economics. Belmont, Calif., Wadsworth Pub. Co. 2e ed. 1981

  • [You know you are in a part of the economy dealing with grants instead of exchange when] A gives B something and B does not give A anything in the way of an economic good.
    • p. i as cited in: Deirdre Nansen McCloskey (2013) What Boulding Said Went Wrong with Economics, A Quarter Century On
    • McCloskey (2013) commented earlier: "Boulding invented what he called, infelicitiously, "grants economics" (he might better have used the anthropologist's term gifts, or even the theologian's term grace... It's an idea about the economy, but draws the attention of economists to exactly what they do not attend to when thinking of exchange alone."
  • At the opposite pole from the gift is tribute - that is, a grant made out of fear and under threat. A threat is a statement of the form "you do something that I want or I will do something that you do not want.
    • p. 4
  • Political conflict rests to a very large extent on a universal ignorance of consequences, as the people who are benefited by any particular act or policy are rarely those who struggled for it, and the people who are injured are rarely those who opposed it.
    • p. 63
  • [In order to define the distinction between a grant and an exchange transaction, Boulding has used the net worth criterion] If there is no decrease in the net worth of either party, the transaction is exchange; if there is, it contains some grant element and is an explicit or implicit grant.
    • p. 88 as cited in: Omicron Delta Epsilon, Omicron Chi Epsilon (1997) The American economist. Vol. 41-42. p. 20
  • One reason why the progressive state is 'cheerful' is that social conflict is diminished by it.
    • p. 95

Toward a General Social Science, 1974


Kenneth Boulding (1974). Collected Papers: Toward a general social science. L.D. Singell ed., Colorado Associated University Press

  • The social system tends to be dominated by images... especially of the future, which act cybernetically, constantly guided by perceived divergences between the real and the ideal
    • p. vii as cited by Debora Hammond (1995) "Perspectives from the Boulding files". In: Systems Research Vol. 12 No. 4, p. 281-290
Communication can only take place among equals.
- Kenneth Boulding, 1974
  • The world moves into the future as a result of decisions, not as a result of plans. Plans are significant only insofar as they affect decisions.
    • p. 8
  • Equilibrium is a figment of the human imagination.
    • p. 29
  • We never like to admit to ourselves that we have made a mistake. Organizational structures tend to accentuate this source of failure of information.
    • p. 87 quote in: D.A. Bella (1978) Environment, technology, and future generations
  • [if the automobile is replaced by public trans port] the social structure of cities will revert to the ecological pattern of 1880.
    • p. 257 as cited in D.S. Houghton, B.J. Shaw (1982) "The city in an era of restricted car usage: Some further observations and policy responses". In: Geoforum. Vol 13, Issue 1, p. 19–25,

Ecodynamics: A New Theory Of Societal Evolution, 1978


Kenneth Boulding (1978) Ecodynamics: A New Theory Of Societal Evolution. Sage Publications.

  • [The law of evolution states that] complexity increases in terms of differentiation and structure.
    • p. 10 as cited in P.P. Kandelaars (1999) Economic Models of Material-Product Chains for Environmental Policy Analysis. p. 13
  • Any attempt to reduce the complex properties of biological organisms or of nervous systems or of human brains to simple physical and chemical systems is foolish.
    • p. 20
  • The evolutionary vision is agnostic in regard to systems in the universe of greater complexity than those of which human beings have clear knowledge. It recognizes aesthetic, moral, and religious ideas and experiences as a species, in this case of mental structures or of images, which clearly interacts with other species in the world's great' ecosystem.
    • p. 20
  • [Boulding grasps the significance of sociobiology's emphasis on biogenetics] that there are biogenetic factors in learning capacity and potential can hardly be denied... [yet] biogenetically imposed limits to human learning... seem to be much more remote... than are the limitations imposed by the biogenetic structure."
    • p. 21 as cited in: W.R. Brown and M.J. Schaefermeyer (1980) "Progress in communication as a social science". In: Dan Nimmo eds. Communication Yearbook 4. p. 38
  • Looked at from the perspective of twentieth-century earth, we see three great stages in the dynamic process of the universe. To this whole process, as it spreads out over perhaps ten billion years of time and ten billion light years of space, we give the name evolution, and we see three great patterns within it. The first is physical evolution. This presumably started with the development of the most elementary particles (whatever they may be); then of neutrons, protons, electrons, and radiations; then of elements from hydrogen to uranium and beyond formed by combining protons and electrons; then of chemical compounds; then finally of increasingly complex molecules from amino acids, and proteins to the great watershed of DNA, the beginnings of life.
    • p. 28
Nothing fails like success, because we do not learn anything from it. We only learn from failure, but we do not always learn the right things from failure.
-Kenneth Boulding, 1978
  • Nothing fails like success, because we do not learn anything from it. We only learn from failure, but we do not always learn the right things from failure. If there is a failure of expectations, that is, if the messages that we receive are not the same as those we expected, we can make three possible inferences.
    • p. 42
  • DNA has been aptly described as the first three-dimensional Xerox machine.
    • p. 100
  • Populations interact, some decline to extinction, and some expand. In an ice age the tundra advances on the forest, but in no sense is there a "struggle" between them. As the temperature gets colder, the forest species decline and the tundra species increase; that is all. There is neither effort nor fight. As we move toward the more complex animals, of course, both effort and fighting become more common, but even in the predator-prey relationship, there is catching and eating rather than fighting.
    • p. 110
  • Human artifacts not only include material structures and objects, such as buildings, machines, and automobiles, but they also include organizations, organizational structures like extended families . . . tribes, nations, corporations, churches, political parties, governments, and so on. Some of these may grow unconsciously, but they all originate and are sustained by the images in the human mind.
    • p. 121
  • [The information available within a system constitutes what Boulding (1978) calls the noosphere. It is constituted by the collection of plans, of representations, of procedures, of ideas for the construction of objects or of instructions to realize certain interaction patterns, including] the totality of the cognitive content, including values, of all human nervous systems, plus the prostatic devices by which the system is extended and integrated in the form of libraries, computers, telephones, post offices, and so on.
    • p. 122, cited in: Jorge Reina Schement, Brent D. Ruben (1993) Information and Behavior - Volume 4. p. 517
    • Robert A. Solo (1994) "Kenneth Ewart Boulding: 1910-1993. An Appreciation" commented: "The image appears as crucial in Boulding's treatment of societal evolution. Here the record is in human artifacts, not only in material structures such as buildings and machines, telephones and radios, but also in organizations including the extended family, the tribe, the nation, and the corporation. All such artifacts originate in and are sustained by images in the human mind. Civilization and civilized man, in the language that he knows, the skills he acquires, the whole heritage of tradition and manners he has learned, are human artifacts."
  • The social dynamics of human history, even more than that of biological evolution, illustrate the fundamental principle of ecological evolution - that everything depends on everything else. The nine elements that we have described in societal evolution of the three families of phenotypes - the phyla of things, organizations and people, the genetic bases in knowledge operating through energy and materials to produce phenotypes, and the three bonding relations of threat, integration and exchange - all interact on each other.
    • p. 224
  • Dialectics in many different forms has a surprisingly good press. Most people believe that struggle is very important and that it is important to be on the right side in a conflict.... Part of the difficulty is that the human race has an enormous and by no means unreasonable passion for the dramatic, and conflict is much more dramatic than production....The awful truth about the universe - that it is not only rather a muddle, but also pretty dull - is wholly unacceptable to the human imagination. Nevertheless, it is the dull, nondialectical processes that hold the world together, that move it forward, and that provide the setting within which the dialectical processes take place. Evolution is the theatre, dialectics the play. It is a tragic error to mistake the play for the theatre, however, because that all too easily ends in the theatre burning down... Unless there is a reasonably widespread appreciation of the proper role of dialectical processes, these tend to get out of hand and become extremely destructive.... doing more harm than good.


  • Physicists can only talk to other physicists and economists to economists... sociologists often cannot even understand each other.
    • Attributed to Kenneth Boulding in Hans Adriaansens (1980) Talcott Parsons and the Conceptual Dilemma. p. 10
  • Canada has no cultural unity, no linguistic unity, no religious unity, no economic unity, no geographic unity. All it has is unity.
    • Kenneth Boulding cited in: World Union (Organization) (1982) World union. Vol 22. p. 35
  • With the development of the human race (and perhaps a little earlier), a new structure emerges, which we can call know-what. This consists of the structures in the nervous system which presumably map into some kind of images in the of the 'mind', which also map into structure in the 'real world', whatever that is. Know-what is very different from know-how. The fertilized egg certainly has the know-how to make whatever organism it knows how to make, but it is very doubtful that it knows what it is doing. The remarkable thing about know-what is that it creates know-how, as we see with the fantastic burgeoning of human artifacts under the influence of a science-based technology. Science, fundamentally, deals with know-what and this enormously increases know-how.
    • Kenneth Boulding (1984) In: Meheroo Jussawalla, Helene Ebenfield eds. Communication and information economics: new perspectives. p. vii as cited in: John Laurent (2003) Evolutionary Economics and Human Nature. p. 177
  • One can even go beyond know-what into know-whether. This involves the evaluative structure of the human mind which enables us to make decisions and choices among different images of the future. Human behavior cannot be explained without this further development in the hierarchy that starts with simple information. This actually goes back a long way in evolution. Even the amoeba knows whether to absorb a piece of grit or a piece of food.
    • Kenneth Boulding (1984) In: Meheroo Jussawalla, Helene Ebenfield eds. Communication and information economics: new perspectives. p. vii
  • The World is a very complex system. It is easy to have too simple a view of it, and it is easy to do harm and to make things worse under the impulse to do good and make things better.
    • Kenneth Boulding (1986) "Proceedings of the 7th Friends Association for Higher Education Conference, Malone College, 1986" p. 4, quoted in Debora Hammond, The Science of Synthesis, Colorado: University of Colorado Press, 2003.
  • [In science any model depends on a pre-chosen taxonomy] a set of classifications into which we divide the enormous complexity of the real world... Land, labor, and capital are extremely heterogeneous aggregates, not much better than earth, air, fire, and water.
  • Economics deals with the behavior of commodities rather than with the behavior of men.
    • Attributed to Kenneth Boulding in: Peter F. Drucker, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, New York: Truman Talley Books, E.P. Dutton, 1986, p. 21.

Illustrating Economics: Beasts, Ballads and Aphorisms, 1980


Kenneth E. Boulding, Richard P. Beilock (Editor) Illustrating Economics: Beasts, Ballads and Aphorisms. 2e ed. 2010

... 4 Seymour Street, off. London Road, Liverpool, Lancashire, England, Great. Britain, Europe, the world, the solar system, the universe. Writing out my full address like this was a great satisfaction when I was a boy.
- Kenneth Boulding, 1980
  • I was born on January 18, 1910 at 4 Seymour Street, off. London Road, Liverpool, Lancashire, England, Great. Britain, Europe, the world, the solar system, the universe. Writing out my full address like this was a great satisfaction when I was a boy. Seymour Street had a solid row of narrow, four-story houses on both sides, each with a flight of steps leading up to the front door, and what we called an "airy," a rectangular hole in front of the basement window, often with steps leading down to a basement underneath the front door. The streets of the neighborhood spoke of the Napoleonic Wars in the early nineteenth century— St. Vincent Street, Rodney Street, Lord Nelson Street. Close by was dirty Lime Street Station; St. George's Hall, a magnificent classical structure the center of Liverpudlian splendor; the theaters; and the great Picton Library with its huge circular reading room. The neighborhood was very mixed; we belonged to the English minority in Liverpool, a city largely populated by the Irish and the Welsh.
    • p. 3
  • My father, William C. Boulding, was a working plumber in business for himself. At the back of the house was the yard, a corrugated iron shed full of pipes, wrenches, and blow torches, and other mysterious and rather frightening apparatus. He had two faithful employees, Billy Fox, who was moody and regarded as a little queer, and Billy Sankey, who was short and cheerful. They and my father always smelled strongly of some kind of grease. My father was a gentle man. I never I never heard his voice raised in anger. He had had a very hard childhood. His father died soon after he was born; his mother married again, a man known in the family legends as "Pa Hardacre," about whom endless stories were told. He was a bigamist. He drove my father out of the house at the age of twelve to earn his own living on the streets of Liverpool. He constantly mistreated my half-aunts, Ethel and Rosie. He died before I was born, but my mother's accounts of him sounded like something out of Dickens.
    • p. 5
  • The trouble with taxonomic boxes is... that that they tend to be empty, however beautiful they are on the outside.
    • p. 75 as cited in: R. Harper, L. Palen, A. Taylor (2005) The Inside Text: Social, Cultural and Design Perspectives on SMS. p. 79
  • In modern industry, research
    Has come to be a kind of Church
    Where rubber-aproned acolytes
    Perform their Scientific Rites
    And firms spend funds they do not hafter
    In hope of benefits Hereafter.
    • p. 96
  • We cannot walk befor we toddle,
    Though we may toddle far too long,
    If we embrace a lovely Model
    That is consistent, clear, and wrong.
    - Experts from "Notes from Wooods Hole", unpublished, 1976.
    • p. 148

Evolutionary Economics, 1981


Kenneth Boulding (1981) Evolutionary economics. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications.

  • It is much more accurate to identify the factors of production as know-how (that is genetic information structure), energy, and materials, for, as we have seen, all processes of production involve the direction of energy by some know-how structure toward the selection, transportation, and transformation of materials into the product
    • p. 27
  • Prediction of the future is possible only in systems that have stable parameters like celestial mechanics. The only reason why prediction is so successful in celestial mechanics is that the evolution of the solar system has ground to a halt in what is essentially a dynamic equilibrium with stable parameters. Evolutionary systems, however, by their very nature have unstable parameters. They are disequilibrium systems and in such systems our power of prediction, though not zero, is very limited because of the unpredictability of the parameters themselves. If, of course, it were possible to predict the change in the parameters, then there would be other parameters which were unchanged, but the search for ultimately stable parameters in evolutionary systems is futile, for they probably do not exist... Social systems have Heisenberg principles all over the place, for we cannot predict the future without changing it.
    • p. 44
  • ...the perception of potential threats to survival may be much more important in determining behavior than the perceptions of potential profits, so that profit maximization is not really the driving force. It is fear of loss rather than hope of gain that limits our behavior
    • p. 104

Three Faces of Power, 1989


Kenneth Boulding (1989) Three Faces of Power. London: Sage

The most fundamental form of integrative power is the power of love.
-Kenneth Boulding, 1989
  • Integrative power [is] the ultimate power
    • p. 109
  • The most fundamental form of integrative power is the power of love.
    • p. 110
  • [Peace praxis is] a peace process that deals with conflict integratively.
    • p. 140 as cited in: Joseph De Rivera (2008) Handbook on Building Cultures of Peace. p. 243
  • The very act of thinking about power in our lives and experiences creates a process of revelation and self-analysis that may even make us look at ourselves in a new light... thinking about power and its complex manifestations may not simply lead to a better understanding of the abstract complexities of society, but may have an effect on one‟s own image and identity. Perhaps a warning label should be placed on the cover...
    • p. 259, quoted in: Andrew Mearman (2011)
  • [The integrative system] deals with such matters as respect, legitimacy, community, friendship, affection, love, and of course their opposites, across a broad scale of human relationships and interactions.
    • p. 670-671 as cited in: Christopher Spicer (1997) Organizational Public Relations: A Political Perspective. p. 248
    • Spicer (1997) explains: "Boulding (1989) referred to three independent systems from which power is exercised in our society: threat, production and exchange, and integrative. The threat system is one in which power is accomplished through coercion in its many guises, often including asymmetrical one-way persuasive communication exchanges. The production and exchange system speaks to the economic system, of which public relations is certainly a part. And, finally, the integrative system.

1990s and attributed

  • The right to have children should be a marketable commodity, bought and traded by individuals but absolutely limited by the state.
    • Kenneth Boulding, quoted in Dixy Lee Ray (1990). "Trashing the Planet", p. 168. Regnery Publishing, Inc. ISBN 978-0895265449.
  • The only religion that still demands human sacrifice is nationalism.
    • Attributed to Kenneth Boulding in: Russell Francis Farnen (1996) Democracy, socialization, and conflicting loyalties in East and West. p. 52
  • Economists and technologists bring the "bits", but it requires the social scientists and humanists to bring the "wits."
    • Attributed to Kenneth Boulding in Michael H. Prosser, K. S. Sitaram (1999) Civic Discourse: Intercultural, International, and Global Media. p. 11
  • Mathematics brought rigor to Economics. Unfortunately, it also brought mortis
    • Attributed to Kenneth Boulding in: Peter J. Dougherty (2002) Who's afraid of Adam Smith?: how the market got its soul. p. 110
  • Don't go to great trouble to optimize something that never should be done at all. Aim to enhance total systems properties, such as creativity, stability, diversity, resilience, and sustainability–whether they are easily measured or not.
    • Attributed to Kenneth Boulding in: Ramage Magnus and Karen Shipp (2009) Systems Thinkers. p. 116

Quotes about Kenneth Boulding

  • General systems theory is considered as a formal theory (Mesarovic, Wymore), a methodology (Ashby, Klir), a way of thinking (Bertalanffy, Churchman), a way of looking at the world (Weinberg), a search for an optimal simplification (Ashby, Weinberg), didactic method (Boulding, Klir, Weinberg), metalanguage (Logren), and profession (Klir).
    • George Klir cited in: James T. Ziegenfuss (1983) Patients' rights and organizational models: sociotechnical systems research on mental health programs. p. 104
  • Kenneth E. Boulding was a most extraordinary economist. The narrow bounds of the economics discipline could not contain his interests and talents. In addition to economics, Professor Boulding made important contributions to the fields of political science, sociology, philosophy, and social psychology. His forays into subjects outside the usual concerns of economists were not an intellectual dilettantism; rather, they were a result of his conviction that an understanding of human behavior can only be accomplished by studying man in his totality. Much of Boulding's work was an attempt to move beyond the narrow economic view of humans as self-interested, rational utility maximizers to a general social science exploiting the full range of our rational, instinctual, and mystical knowledge.
  • Boulding was not left-wing in his politics nor involved in the radical economics of the time. In fact he was always hostile to Marx’s theory of capitalism and its emphasis on class conflict. What he did feel strongly about was the cause of peace, having become a Quaker early in life, and having been active throughout his career in a variety of ways in the cause of peace. Moreover, he himself saw peace and conflict research as his largest area of work (Boulding, 1989), and regarded his involvement in the founding of the Journal of Conflict Resolution and the International Peace Research Association as important lifetime achievements.
    • John B. Davis (2011) Kenneth Boulding as a Moral Scientist Working paper.
    • Here Davis referred to: Boulding, Kenneth (1989) "A bibliographical autobiography", in: Banca Nazionale del Lavoro Quarterly Review Vol 171. p. 365-393.
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