Knut Wicksell on Poverty: No Place Is Too Exalted

By Mats Lundahl | Go to book overview

1

Introduction

The causes of poverty are a theme that occupied Knut Wicksell for virtually all of his adult life. It was the theme for the speech and the publication that made him a well-known or, rather, notorious public figure in Sweden in 1880, and it was also the theme of two of his last publications: one published in 1925 (Wicksell, 1925), the other, posthumously, just after his death in 1926 (Wicksell, 1926a). It can hardly be doubted that his passion in this matter was one of the factors that made the student of mathematics take an interest in questions related to the social sciences and which pulled Wicksell away from the natural sciences into the study of economics.


The conventional wisdom

Arguably, Knut Wicksell is the greatest Swedish social scientist of all time. However, the subject of poverty and population is one of the few areas in which the conventional wisdom is that he failed to produce anything very original. The only credit usually given to Wicksell for his writings on these subjects is for his views of optimum population. Lionel Robbins (1927: note 118) believes him to be the first to have used the term, but concedes him a mere footnote, whereas Manuel Gottlieb (1945:291-2) views him as the culmination of a celebrated tradition:

…the optimum population concept is one of the culminating points of a large body of tested thought and it was explicitly developed as an analytical tool by some of the path-breaking theorists who established the essential foundations of modern economics: Marshall, Sidgwick, Cannan and-above all-Knut Wicksell. Certainly labeling the theory as a mere rationalization for the cause of population stability or decline or as an 'Anglo-Saxon Theory' is not acceptable.

Joseph Spengler (1983) credits Wicksell with being 'Father of the

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Knut Wicksell on Poverty: No Place Is Too Exalted
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page ix
  • Contents xiii
  • Preface xv
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Tumultuous Beginnings 8
  • 3 - The Causes of Population Growth 23
  • 4 - The Centerpiece of Wicksell's Theory 30
  • 5 - Overpopulation, Specialization, and Trade 39
  • 6 - Emigration 50
  • 7 - The Optimum Population 59
  • 8 - Wicksell's Views 69
  • 9 - Why Was Wicksell Accused of Lack of Originality? 86
  • Notes 105
  • References 109
  • Index 117
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