A History of Economic Thought

A History of Economic Thought

A History of Economic Thought

A History of Economic Thought

Excerpt

Interest in the development of economic science is little more than a hundred years old. There are a few unimportant works in the eighteenth century and there is a book in the Wealth of Nations which surveys earlier systems of political economy. But when Adam Smith wrote, the theories which he considered erroneous had not been completely ousted and his survey had a largely polemical aim. We have to wait until the supremacy of classical economy is being challenged before interest in earlier thought revives. Indeed, the earliest attempts at a systematic treatment of the history of economic doctrine were made by adherents of the historical and socialist schools which developed in Germany after the middle of the nineteenth century. Those, like Roscher, who were anxious to develop the historical approach in competition with the deductive were naturally preoccupied with the history of ideas. Socialists, on the other hand, hoped to draw inspiration in their attack upon the prevailing liberal-capitalist theory from a critical study of the origins of that theory. This aim is particularly obvious in Marx; but it is present in the writings of many nineteenth-century authors.

With the spread of economic teaching at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, the history of doctrine becomes a more popular subject of study. Sometimes, as in the case of Ashley, it is still an adjunct to economic history and a consequence of methodological preference. But most histories of this modern period become matter-of-fact outlines, often because (as in France, where Gide and Rist produced their widely read history) the teaching of the history of political economy remained for a long time the only form of academic economic instruction. Recently a more directly 'technical' interest has also arisen. As the conceptual 'tools' of the economist have increased in number and complexity, the practi-

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