Essays on the Intellectual History of Economics

Essays on the Intellectual History of Economics

JACOB VINER
EDITED BY Douglas A. Irwin
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 416
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7ztz3w
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  • Book Info
    Essays on the Intellectual History of Economics
    Book Description:

    Ranking among the most distinguished economists and scholars of his generation, Jacob Viner is best remembered for his work in international economics and in the history of economic thought. Mark Blaug, in his Great Economists Since Keynes (Cambridge, 1985) remarked that Viner was "quite simply the greatest historian of economic thought that ever lived." Never before, however, have Viner's important contributions to the intellectual history of economics been collected into one convenient volume. This book performs this valuable service to scholarship by reprinting Viner's classic essays on such topics as Adam Smith and laissez-faire, the intellectual history of laissez-faire, and power versus plenty as an objective of foreign policy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Also included are Viner's penetrating and previously unpublished Wabash College lectures. "Jacob Viner was one of the truly great economists of this century as both teacher and scholar. This collection .. covers a wide range with special emphasis on the history of thought. Today's economists will find [the essays] just as thought-provoking and as illuminating as did his contemporaries. They have aged very well indeed."--Milton Friedman, Hoover Institution "Jacob Viner was a great and original economic theorist. What is rarer, Viner was a learned scholar. What is still rarer, Viner was a wise scientist. This new anthology of his writings on intellectual history is worth having in every economist's library--to sample at intervals over the years in the reasoned hope that Viner's wisdom will rub off on the reader and for the pleasure of his writing."--Paul A. Samuelson, MIT "I am frankly jealous of those who will be reading Viner's essays for the first time, marvelling at his learning, amused by his dry wit, instructed by his wisdom. But although I cannot share their joy of discovery, I shall be able to savor the subtleties that emerge from rereading these splendid essays."--George J. Stigler, University of Chicago "This volume will be a treat for the reader who appreciates scholarship, felicitous use of language, and the workings of a great mind. The Wabash lectures are gems, and the introduction by Douglas Irwin contributes significantly to our understanding of Viner's accomplishments."--William J. Baumol, Princeton University/New York University

    Originally published in 1991.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6205-4
    Subjects: Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-2)
    Douglas A. Irwin
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-36)

    Jacob Viner ranks among the most distinguished economists and scholars of his generation.¹ Lionel Robbins, himself a great scholar in the history of economics, believed that Jacob Viner “was probably the greatest authority of the age in the history of economic and social thought.”² Mark Blaug was less equivocal in judging Viner to be “quite simply the greatest historian of economic thought that ever lived.”³ Anyone familiar with Viner, either personally or through his writings, respects these claims as eminently justifiable. Indeed, only Joseph Schumpeter challenges Viner’s reputation as this century’s master of the history of economic thought.

    Unlike Schumpeter,...

  5. PART I The Wabash Lectures
    • 1 FIVE LECTURES ON ECONOMICS AND FREEDOM Delivered at Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana June 1959
      (pp. 39-82)

      There are surprisingly ancient origins for some of the modern ideas with respect to the nature and functions of trade, domestic and international.

      Among the Greek and the Roman philosophers hostile or contemptuous attitudes towards trade and the merchant were common, based in the main on aristocratic and snobbish prejudice, and with no or naive underpinning of economic argument. Thus Aristotle maintained that trade was an unseemly activity for nobles or gentlemen, a “blameable” activity. He insisted that wealth was essential for nobility, but it must be inherited wealth. Wealth was also an essential need of the state, but it...

  6. PART II Major Essays
    • 2 ADAM SMITH AND LAISSEZ FAIRE
      (pp. 85-113)

      An endeavor to make a just appraisal of Adam Smith’s original contributions to economic doctrine would even today be a task of extraordinary difficulty.¹ On the one hand, what was serviceable in his doctrines has become so thoroughly incorporated in our modern thinking that we discover it upon the slightest provocation in whatever we may read that was written before his day, and we are especially prone to make a virtue of obscurity in his predecessors by taking it for granted that it conceals premature insight rather than unduly prolonged lack of it. On the other hand, there is always...

    • 3 MARSHALL’S ECONOMICS, IN RELATION TO THE MAN AND TO HIS TIMES
      (pp. 114-127)

      Malthus once said with reference to Senior’s lectures on population, that “it was among the disadvantages of public lectures, that the lecturer sometimes though he was called upon to say something new, where there was nothing new to be said.” Malthus, it may be ventured, would have been willing to concede that he had contributed substantially to placing Senior in that position by having himself previously said most of what was worth saying about population. Asked to speak to the Association on Marshall as part of the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of hisPrinciples, I find...

    • 4 POWER VERSUS PLENTY AS OBJECTIVES OF FOREIGN POLICY IN THE SEVENTEENTH AND EIGHTEENTH CENTURIES
      (pp. 128-153)

      In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries economic thought and practice were predominantly carried on within the framework of that body of ideas which was later to be called “mercantilism.” Although there has been almost no systematic investigation of the relationship in mercantilist thought between economic and political objectives or ends in the field of foreign policy, certain stereotypes have become so prevalent that few scholars have seriously questioned or examined their validity. One of these stereotypes is that mercantilism was a “system of power,” that is, that “power” was for mercantilists the sole or overwhelmingly preponderant end of foreign policy,...

    • 5 BENTHAM AND J. S. MILL: THE UTILITARIAN BACKGROUND
      (pp. 154-175)

      The one-hundredth anniversary of the publication of J. S. Mill’sPrinciples of Political Economyfalls in the year 1948, and the American Economic Association in the programming of its meetings takes advantage of anniversaries of births, deaths, and dates of publication to remind its members that our discipline has a past. This is a proper occasion, therefore, for a paper on J. S. Mill. The inclusion of Bentham in the scope of my paper is of my own contriving, but perhaps I can technically legitimatize it by appeal to the fact that British learned circles have been celebrating during 1948...

    • 6 INTRODUCTION TO BERNARD MANDEVILLE, A LETTER TO DION (1732)
      (pp. 176-188)

      TheLetter to Dion, Mandeville’s last publication, was, in form, a reply to Bishop Berkeley’sAlciphron: or, the Minute Philosopher. In Alciphron, a series of dialogues directed against “free thinkers” in general, Dion is the presiding host and Alciphron and Lysicles are the expositors of objectionable doctrines. Mandeville’sFable of the Beesis attacked in the Second Dialogue, where Lysicles expounds some Mandevillian views but is theologically an atheist, politically a revolutionary, and socially a leveller. In theLetter to Dion, however, Mandeville assumes that Berkeley is charging him with all of these views, and accuses Berkeley of unfairness and...

    • 7 “FASHION” IN ECONOMIC THOUGHT
      (pp. 189-199)

      Unlike, no doubt, the speakers who have preceded me, and unlike also, no doubt, the ones who are to follow, I do not know what “Fashion” means in this context in the minds of those who framed the program! It is not to me a term of art. There is in economics a certain body of literature on the economics of “fashion” with reference to ladies’ garments, and so on. It is a respectable field and one undoubtedly of some importance, but I do not know anything about it. It probably is a field that people really interested in fashion...

    • 8 THE INTELLECTUAL HISTORY OF LAISSEZ FAIRE
      (pp. 200-225)

      What i propose to do in this lecture is to discuss the logical or rhetorical nature of the arguments by means of which exponents of laissez faire or of marked movement in its direction have attempted to win converts to their cause. My lecture will be focused not on the inherent merits or defects of laissez faire as social doctrine, but on the logical character of the case that its adherents have presented in support of it. My examination will be critical in large part, and in one major respect will not be judiciously balanced, since I would in many...

    • 9 THE ECONOMIST IN HISTORY
      (pp. 226-247)

      I feel it prudent to begin by explaining the title of my paper. It is not, except indirectly, a paper on the history of economic thought, although I must confess that several times in the past I have been guilty of smuggling some history of thought into our Association’s meetings, and may possibly do so again here. Nor is my paper an account of the influence the economist and his ideas have had on the actual course of history. Keynes may have been right when he said that “the ideas of economists and political philosophers … are the chief rulers...

    • 10 ADAM SMITH
      (pp. 248-261)

      Adam Smith (1723–1790) was born in Kirkcaldy, Fifeshire, a fisheries and mining town near Edinburgh. He was the son, by a second marriage, of Adam Smith, comptroller of the customs at Kirkcaldy, who died early in 1723; his mother, Margaret Douglas, was the daughter of a substantial landowner in Fifeshire. Smith lived with his mother whenever he was in Scotland until her death in 1784; he was her only child, and he remained a bachelor until his death.

      Smith received his elementary schooling in Kirkcaldy and entered the University of Glasgow in 1737, graduating with an m.a. in 1740....

    • 11 MERCANTILIST THOUGHT
      (pp. 262-276)

      “Mercantilism” is the label commonly given today to the doctrine and practices of nation-states in the period roughly from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries with respect to the nature and the appropriate regulation of international economic relations. In this doctrine great emphasis is put on the importance of maintaining an excess of exports of goods and services over imports as the sole means whereby a country without gold or silver mines can obtain a continuous net inflow of the precious metals, regarded as essential to national wealth and strength. In the eighteenth century the elder Mirabeau and Adam Smith...

    • 12 MAN’S ECONOMIC STATUS
      (pp. 277-302)

      I have found myself straggling somewhat with the assigned title of my paper. To give me some finite bodies of matter to focus on, I will concentrate on restricted categories of ‘man’, of ‘society’, and of material that can justify the ‘economic’ label. Since neither 1701 nor 1801 have appreciable terminal significance for any problem or issue with my range of knowledge, 1688, the year of the Glorious Revolution, will be my approximate beginning date, and the period after 1776 will be referred to only now and again, not because this later period is unimportant or uninteresting to me, but...

    • 13 SATIRE AND ECONOMICS IN THE AUGUSTAN AGE OF SATIRE
      (pp. 303-324)

      The invitation to contribute to aFestschriftin honour of my friend and colleague Louis Landa was very welcome to me. I was somewhat at a loss, however, as to a topic which would both have some relevance to Landa’s interests and be within my competence, as an economist, to deal with. Shortly before the receipt of the invitation I participated in a symposium sponsored by Reed College on the Augustan Age of Satire, and in the process of preparing for it I did my first substantial reading of Augustan satirical texts and of what modern littérateurs have said about...

  7. PART III Review Articles
    • 14 SCHUMPETER’S HISTORY OF ECONOMIC ANALYSIS
      (pp. 327-345)

      The appearance of Schumpeter’sHistory of Economic Analysisconstitutes a major event in the history of theDogmengeschichteof our discipline.¹ It is a book large in its physical proportions; its text proper amounts to some 1180 large and closely printed pages, much of it in small type. It covers its subject matter from Ancient Greece to Keynes. It aims to account for every writer who made a significant contribution to the development of economic theory. Greek, classical Latin, mediaeval Latin, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, and Dutch contributions, as well as, of course, German, French, and English literature, are reported on...

    • 15 HAYEK ON FREEDOM AND COERCION
      (pp. 346-356)

      This important and challenging book presents a learned and powerfully argued brief on behalf of the propositions, that, in general, the maximum possible amount of “liberty” or of “freedom” from “coercion” is both practicable and urgently to be desired, and that the encroachments on freedom which prevail even in the western world are a major evil, in their actual and prospective consequences, if not in themselves. Hayek is, of course, an economist of the first rank. But he also commands a variety of skills belonging to other disciplines, and this work is primarily a treatise on a major problem of...

    • 16 “POSSESSIVE INDIVIDUALISM” AS ORIGINAL SIN
      (pp. 357-375)

      Professor Macpherson’s book¹ is essentially a treatise on political theory, written from the point of view of a special socio-economic and ethical ideology, in an intellectual-history setting. I am merely an economist and am further handicapped as a reviewer of this book by an incurable scepticism about the meaningfulness of either dogmatic or “rationalistic” exposition of moral principles. I am not much better circumstanced so far as political theory and its history are concerned, although I have been moved by “idle curiosity” to do what for an outsider is perhaps a fairly extensive amount of reading in this area. All...

    • 17 THE EARLIER LETTERS OF JOHN STUART MILL
      (pp. 376-382)

      Massive collections aiming at completeness of the formal writings of particular great or near-great men are in themselves no novelty. More novel, and indeed a phenomenon confined to the last two decades or so and to a handful of countries, is the application by editors of such collections of exact, strictly objective and unobtrusive scholarship, of helpful annotation, and of a wide range of devices for indexing, cross-referencing, and collating of variant texts, all with the purpose of making the path of the serious scholar smoother and freer from hazards and traps. Most novel of all is the application by...

  8. PART IV Commencement Addresses
    • 18 A MODEST PROPOSAL FOR SOME STRESS ON SCHOLARSHIP IN GRADUATE TRAINING
      (pp. 385-395)

      The title i have chosen for my talk may possibly recall to some of you the somewhat similar form of title which eighteenth-century writers used ironically for brutally satiric essays. Jonathan Swift in his “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from being a Burden to their Parents or the Country” recommended that the problem of the starving children be solved by serving the children as food to the rich. Philip Skelton made his irony obvious by the very title of his essay, which read: “Some Proposals for the Revival of Christianity.” If, however, there is any...

    • 19 ADDRESS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO CONVOCATION
      (pp. 396-400)

      President Bissell has given me no instructions as to what my mission is this evening beyond asking me to speak and imploring me to get it over with as quickly as possible. I will therefore, by my lights, although perhaps not by yours, be brief. I will address myself to today’s graduates. You have just completed your education, and I am the last obstacle to your receipt of official certification to that effect. It has, I am sure, been an excellent education, and your teachers and your great University are, I am sure, justly proud of the diligence and ability...

  9. INDEX
    (pp. 401-408)