Modern Economic Thought: The American Contribution

By Allan G. Gruchy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
2
The Institutional Economics of Thorstein Veblen

Among those American economists who were deeply interested in the reconstruction of economic science in the closing years of the last century was one who was destined to become known as the founder of institutionalism. The economist chosen for this important intellectual role was Thorstein B. Veblen. Other economists like R. T. Ely and S. N. Patten had turned to the problem of reconstructing economics long before Veblen, but they did not go very far beyond destructive criticism to the further achievement of providing a solid foundation for the progress of the new economics. It was Veblen's lot to become the spiritual leader of a renascence in American economic thought which was to offer a serious challenge to the economic orthodoxy of the nineteenth century. It was Veblen who emerged as the spearhead of the new movement in American economic thought, who provided this movement with the necessary philosophical inspiration, and who charted in broad outline the course that the new economics was to take in the first half of the twentieth century.

In the economics textbooks of the last quarter of the nineteenth century was summarized a body of economic doctrines which displayed all the refinement of thought and symmetry of logical construction that several generations of economists had been able to provide. It would have been much less exacting for Veblen to have accepted the contributions of these generations of orthodox economists and to have gone on to further achievements within the general framework of their equilibrium analysis, as did Herbert Davenport, John Bates Clark, Frank W. Taussig, and many other economists. Veblen, it seemed, had no choice but to contradict and refute these doctrines; everything conspired to give him a critical attitude toward

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