A New Handbook of Political Science

By Robert E. Goodin; Hans-Dieter Klingemann | Go to book overview

Chapter 31
Political Economy, Old and New

A. B. Atkinson


I Introduction

A "Political economy" and "economics"

Is "political economy" the same as "economics?" Not today, as is evidenced by the existence of this part of the New Handbook. But in the past the two terms were often treated as having the same meaning. Alfred Marshall, who is credited by Cannan ( 1929) with bringing about general acceptance of the term "economics," referred to it interchangeably with "political economy" on the first page of his Principles of Economics ( 1890). As Groenewegen ( 1985) has argued, writers at that time treated the terms as being essentially synonymous. Jevons urged the dropping of the "old troublesome double-worded name of our science" ( 1910: xiv) only on "grounds of convenience and scientific nicety" ( Groenewegen 1987: 905). Alfred and Mary Marshall made the change in The Economics of Industry ( 1879) because the word "political" had come to have different overtones. The subject-matter had not been re-defined, and Marshall made no reference to any disjuncture between the title of his chair (Professor of Political Economy) and the title of his Inaugural Lecture ( "The Present Position of Economics").

In the course of the 20th-century, the expression "political economy" came to have a slightly old-fashioned air (one of my former departments changed its title in the 1980s from Political Economy to Economics). This decline in use is described by the Cambridge Encyclopedia, which says that "political economy" is

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