On Revolutions and Progress in Economic Knowledge

By T. W. Hutchison | Go to book overview

9
On recent revolutionary versions of the history of economics

I

Recently certain `radical' versions of the history of economics have been formulated as historical settings or scenarios for a new would-be `revolution' in economics. We are concerned here primarily with historical questions, with questions of historical fact and explanation involved in these radical versions. But we cannot entirely avoid questions of substance regarding the content (if there is any) of the new `theories', or `paradigms', as compared with the orthodoxy which it is claimed is being overthrown or superseded. We are examining two main texts proclaiming these new versions of the history of the subject: M. H. Dobb Theories of Value and Distribution since Adam Smith ( 1973), and Book I on `Economic Doctrines' of An Introduction to Modern Economics ( 1973) by Professor Joan Robinson and Mr J. Eatwell. We shall also refer to other writings by Dobb and Professor Robinson as well as to a contribution on `Value in the History of Economic Thought' by Professor R. L. Meek ( 1974). We would emphasise that these works are on very different intellectual levels. But they all draw on, or extrapolate, Marx's special version of the history of political economy, and are also centrally concerned with the supersession, in Britain, around 1870, of `classical', or `Ricardian', theories of value and distribution by `neoclassical' theories (discussed above in the chapters on `The decline and fall of English classical political economy and the Jevonian revolution', and `The Jevonian revolution and economic policy in Britain'). They are also concerned to provide a historical setting, or framework, for a new `revolution' in the subject in the 1970s.


II

In his survey of theories of value and distribution Dobb seeks to maintain, as far as he can, Marx's doctrine that some crucial cut-off point in the history of political economy occurred in 1830, after which, with the increasing intensity of the `class-struggle', the `scientific' political economy of Ricardo was inevitably supplanted by the `apolo-

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