Robert Heilbroner

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Robert Heilbroner (March 24, 1919January 4, 2005) was an American economist and historian of economic thought.


The Worldly Philosophers (1953)[edit]

  • He who enlists a man's mind wields a power even greater than the sword or the scepter.
    • Chapter I, Introduction, p. 3
  • It may strike us as odd that the idea of gain is a relatively modern one; we are schooled to believe that man is essentially an acquisitive creature and that left to himself he will behave as any self-respecting businessman would. The profit motive, we are constantly being told, is as old as man himself.
    Nothing could be further from the truth.
    • Chapter II, The Economic Revolution, p. 15
  • Nobody wanted this commercialization of life.
    • Chapter II, The Economic Revolution, p. 21
  • The Wealth of Nations may not be an original book, but it is unquestionably a masterpiece.
    • Chapter III, Adam Smith, p. 42
  • Even today-in blithe disregard to his actual philosophy — Smith is generally regarded as a conservative economist, whereas in fact, he is more avowedly hostile to the motives of businessman then most New Deal economists.
    • Chapter III, Adam Smith, p. 62
  • David Ricardo saw that the escalator worked with different effects on different classes, that some rode triumphantly to the top, while others were carried up a few steps and then kicked back down to the bottom.
    • Chapter IV, Parson Malthus and David Ricardo, p. 71
  • But while Ricardo, the economist, walked like a god (although he was a modest and retiring person), Malthus was relegated to a lower status.
    • Chapter IV, Parson Malthus and David Ricardo, p. 77
  • The distribution of wealth, therefore, depends on the laws and customs of society.
    • Chapter V, The Utopian Socialists, p. 123
  • But despite the clarion words of the Manifesto, the demonic note was not a call for a revolution of communism; it was a cry born only of frustration and despair.
    • Chapter VI, Karl Marx, p. 128
  • But the process of social change was not merely a matter of new inventions pressing on old institutions: it was a matter of new classes displacing old ones.
    • Chapter VI, Karl Marx, p. 137
  • "One accumulates or one gets accumulated."
    • Chapter VI, Karl Marx, p. 148
  • In the periods of crisis, the bigger firms absorb the smaller ones,and when the industrial monsters eventually go down, the wreckage is far greater than when the little enterprises buckle.
    • Chapter VI, Karl Marx, p. 152
  • For one who has read the works of Marx it is frightening to look back at the grim determination with which so many nations steadfastly hewed to the very course which he insisted would lead to their undoing.
    • Chapter VI, Karl Marx, p. 158
  • The book was called Imperialism; it was a devastating volume. For here was the most important and searing criticism which had ever been levied against the profit system. The worst that Marx had claimed was that the system would destroy itself; what Hobson suggested was that it might destroy the world.
  • Very few of the heroes of the Golden Age of American finance had much interest in the solid realities of what underlay their structure of stocks and bonds and credits.
    • Chapter VIII, Thorstein Veblen, p. 224
  • But like Marx, Veblen badly underestimated the capacity of a democratic system to correct its own excesses.
    • Chapter VIII, Thorstein Veblen, p. 233
  • It was the unemployment that was the hardest to bear. The jobless millions were like an embolism in the nation's vital circulation; and while their indisputable existence argued more forcibly than any text that something was wrong with the system, the economists wrung their hands and racked their brains and called upon the spirit of Adam Smith, but could offer neither diagnosis or remedy.
    • Chapter IX, John Maynard Keynes, p. 240
  • Keynes disdained inside information — in fact, he once declared that Wall Street traders could make huge fortunes if only they would disregard their "inside" information — and his own oracles were nothing but his minute scrutiny of balance sheets, his encyclopedic knowledge of finance, his intuition into personalities, and a certain flair for trading.
    • Chapter IX, John Maynard Keynes, p. 248-249
  • Economic freedom is a highly desirable state — but in bust and boom we must be prepared to face the its consequences.
    • Chapter IX, John Maynard Keynes, p. 257
  • If an economy in the doldrums could drift indefinitely, the price of government inaction might be graver by far than the consequences of bold unorthodoxy.
    • Chapter IX, John Maynard Keynes, p. 269
  • The secret to economic growth lay in the fact that that each generation attacked Nature not only with its own energies and resources, but with the heritage of equipment accumulated by its forebears.
    • Chapter X, The Modern World, p. 278
  • To one American family out of four, the idea of capitalism as a benign system of comfort, dignity, and personal advance is only a myth, or worse, a bitter mockery.
    • Chapter X, The Modern World, p. 281
  • The change began with John Stuart Mill and the Utopians. When Mill pointed out that economics had no ultimate solution to the problem of distribution, that society might do with the fruits of its toil as it saw fit, he introduced into the mechanical calculus of the market a conflicting calculus of moral judgment.
    • Chapter XI, Beyond the Economic Revolution, p. 307
  • It is from the scope and wisdom of the economists of the past that we must reap the knowledge with which to face the future.
    • Chapter XI, Beyond the Economic Revolution, p. 317

The Future As History (1960)[edit]

  • History, as it comes into our daily lives, is charged with surprise and shock.
    • Chapter I, Part 1, The Shock of Events, p. 13
  • Unlike modern man, who dreams of the world he will make, pre-modern man dreamed of the world he left.
    • Chapter I, Part 3, The Future as the Mirror of the Past, p. 19
  • There was no simple riddance to the power of a dangerous political idea; no assassination possible to avert a disruptive change in technology; no natural death to be counted on to stop an economic change that ripped up ancestral estates or stirred up class discontent.
    • Chapter I, Part 6, The Inevitability of Progress, p. 31
  • Karl Marx did not call for an opposition to the forces of history. On the contrary he accepted all of them, the drive of technology, the revolutionizing effects of democratic striving, even the vagaries of capitalism, as being indeed the carriers of a brighter future.
    • Chapter I, Part 8, The Marxian Blow, p. 41
  • The basic function of the military — to achieve victory over the enemy — has been rendered obsolete by the fact that "victory" and defeat are almost certain to be achieved simultaneously.
    • Chapter II, Part 1, The Impact Of The Bomb, p. 64
  • The total amount of electric power generated by India would not suffice to light up New York City.
    • Chapter II, Part 5, The Terrible Ascent, p. 81
  • Today and over the foreseeable future,traditional capitalism throughout most of the world has been thrown on a defensive from which it is doubtful that it can never recover.
    • Chapter II, Part 7, The Drift Away From Capitalism, p. 94
  • It is one of the dangerous self-deceptions of our society to pretend that mechanisms of control do not really exist, and to maintain, without qualification, that we are an economically "free" people.
    • Chapter III, Part 9, The Embrarras De Richesses, p. 150
  • In the end the question is: Who is to be master, man or his machines? As long as the control over technology rests primarily on economic calculation, the victor is not likely to be man.
    • Chapter III, part 10, The Mastery of Technology, p. 161
  • For it is certain that the future will bring realities for which our traditional optimism fails to prepare us and against which our economic momentum fails to arm us.
    • Chapter III, Part 12, The Deepening Confusion, p. 170
  • The rise of the welfare state, on the one hand, and of the military bureaucracy, on the other, are instances of the manner in which technology is enforcing a socialization of life.
    • Chapter IV, Part 1, A Recapitulation, p. 177
  • We may make progress only by freeing ourselves from the rut of the past, but without this rut an orderly society would hardly be possible in the first place.
    • Chapter IV, Part 6, The Inertia of History, p. 195
  • When we estrange ourselves from history we do not enlarge, we diminish ourselves, even as individuals. We subtract from our lives one meaning which they do in fact possess, whether we recognize it or not. We cannot help living in history. We can only fail to be aware of it.
    • Chapter IV, Part 9, The Grand Dynamic of History, p. 209

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