Fifty Major Economists

Fifty Major Economists

Fifty Major Economists

Fifty Major Economists


Designed as a resource for students and writers, this book provides not only brief biographical data on the economists who have shaped the discipline of economics, but also more extensive exposition and analysis of the major features of their economic thought. Fifty Major Economists offers balanced coverage of the contributions of a wide range of economists, from Adam Smith to Gary Becker and Robert E. Lucas, with more space being devoted to seminal theorists who opened up new horizons for economics. It also includes lists of the writers' works, along with guides to further reading and a glossary of the economic terms used in the book.


"The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist." So wrote John Maynard Keynes at the end of The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. Keynes was pointing out that the key economic issues are generally argued within a context and framework that was developed over many centuries. Not knowing that history results in less informal discussion and also in worse economic policies. History counts not only because, as Santanyana remarked, those who lack a knowledge of history are bound to repeat its mistakes. History also has value for the perspective it bestows. Like other disciplines, economics was not developed in a vacuum. To the contrary, economic ideas were developed by real people who were responding to the important issues of their time. A sense of history is necessary to comprehend this noble function of economics and to understand how great economists of the past responded to the problems of their time. Finally, history is important because, in a sense, history is the arbitrator of what has only fleeting importance and what has lasting interest and significance.

Unfortunately, at the end of the twentieth century the majority of the economics profession has come to reject historical pursuits and perspectives. Most economists even look down on those who study economics from an historical perspective. Part of the reason for this is that over the past several decades economists have come to value technique over ideas. Another reason economists ignore history is that they hold an outmoded view of what counts as truth in the social sciences. Believing that we can come to know timeless and universal economic truths, many economists ignore history; past ideas are thought to be either imbedded in current economic knowledge or just plain wrong.

Historians of economic thought must also share some of the blame for the demise of their area of specialization. They tend to present their field as a history of dead figures whose ideas have little contemporary importance. Rarely do they explain how studying the great figures from the past can help illuminate current issues, or how it can help us understand how economics might help mitigate important contemporary problems. Even less frequently do they study the ideas of economists who are still alive and who continue to contribute to our knowledge of how economies work.

When Alan Jarvis of Routledge approached me about doing a book on the major figures in economics I took his inquiry as an opportunity to remedy this situation,

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