The Academic Scribblers

The Academic Scribblers

William Breit
Roger L. Ransom
With a new foreword by Robert M. Solow
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 300
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvbf2
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  • Book Info
    The Academic Scribblers
    Book Description:

    The Academic Scribblersoffers a thoughtful and highly literate summary of modern economic thought. It presents the story of economics through the lives of twelve major modern economists, beginning with Alfred Marshall and concluding with Paul Samuelson and Milton Friedman. In a very real sense, this book picks up where Robert Heilbroner's classicThe Wordly Philosophersleaves off. Whereas Heilbroner begins with Smith and ends with Joseph Schumpeter, Breit and Ransom bring the story of modern American and British economic theory up to the 1980s.The Academic Scribblersis an elegant summary of modern economic policy debate and an enticement into a happy engagement with the "dismal science" of economics."

    Originally published in 1998.

    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: 978-1-4008-6489-8
    Subjects: Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. ix-xii)
    ROBERT M. SOLOW

    William Breit and Roger L. Ransom write out of conviction that serious economic ideas are important for the making and understanding of economic policy. If they are right, and I think they are, then it must also be important that serious citizens understand not only the potted conclusions of economic analysis, but also something about the reasoning and observation that lead up to them. Because economics is not cut-and-dried, this kind of understanding would be a necessary basis for intelligent policy debate. All that sounds obvious. But there are at least three persistent and ubiquitous booby traps in the way...

  4. PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    William Breit and Roger L. Ransom
  5. PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    William Breit and Roger L. Ransom
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    A few years ago a distinguished national magazine asked the following questions of some twenty-seven historians, economists, political scientists, educators, and philosophers:

    1. What books published during the past four decades most significantly altered the direction of our society?

    2. Which may have a substantial impact on public thought and action in the years ahead?

    Although the participants represented wide areas of interests and were invited to submit as many titles as they desired, the book cited most often would scarcely be expected to attract a large reading public and would most certainly not be a likely candidate for sale...

  7. PART ONE THE PILLARS OF NEOCLASSICAL ECONOMICS
    • 2 THE INTELLECTUAL GANTRY OF NEOCLASSICAL ECONOMIC POLICY
      (pp. 7-17)

      The policy conclusions dominating the reasoning of most economists during the first 40 years of the twentieth century followed from the logic of what is known as neoclassical economic thought. The date 1871 is used to mark the beginning of this way of thinking about economic problems. In that year two books appeared—one in England, one in Austria—which deviated sharply from the mainstream of classical economics. The Englishman was William Stanley Jevons and the Austrian was Carl Menger.¹ Working independently, they simultaneously discovered (or “rediscovered”)² a way of thinking which subsequently came to be known as “marginalism.” The...

    • 3 EXEMPLAR OF NEOCLASSICAL ECONOMIC THOUGHT
      (pp. 19-28)
      Alfred Marshall

      If one name in the history of economic thought is synonymous with the neoclassical approach—incorporating into one system the chief pillars of neoclassicism—it is that of Alfred Marshall. Marshallian economics came to represent the very best in this new approach to the subject. His great book,Principles of Economics,first published in 1890, went through eight editions before Marshall’s death in 1924. It became the standard work of reference in the field for thousands of economics students. His work is thought of today as the most orthodox of neoclassicism; yet, as we shall show, it contained the germs of...

  8. PART TWO THE ECLIPSE OF NEOCLASSICAL ECONOMICS
    • 4 THE ABROGATION OF CONSUMER SOVEREIGNTY
      (pp. 31-41)
      Thorstein Veblen

      The foundations of neoclassical economic science, as outlined in the preceding chapters, are, the reader will possibly agree, formidable. Upon them was constructed a social science second to none in rigor or esthetic qualities. The use of the tool of “margins” made the apparatus susceptible to manipulation by Euclidian geometry and the differential calculus. It was not long before the time and effort required for proficiency in its highly specialized vocabulary and theoretical techniques restricted the serious study of the economy to the trained specialist. After 1871, the subject emerged from relative obscurity and close association with theology, to a...

    • 5 EXTERNALITIES IN PRODUCTION
      (pp. 43-51)
      Arthur Cecil Pigou

      Thorstein Veblen’s earliest impact was on a generation of young American economists and social scientists who called for radical experimentation and restructuring of property relationships during the Great Depression. Some of them were to prove influential in the New Deal and indeed were to take the name for Roosevelt’s administration from Veblen’s own works.¹ The early Veblenians took as their text theEngineers and the Price System, calling for a rule of the engineers and technocrats to bring order out of the chaos of the Great Depression.

      As we shall see, John Maynard Keynes’s message at this period was equally...

    • 6 THE WASTES OF COMPETITION
      (pp. 53-63)
      Edward Hastings Chamberlin

      In 1921, a graduate student at the University of Michigan wrote a paper discussing the ability of railroads to charge discriminatory rates on different classes of freight. He was puzzled why theorists such as A. C. Pigou and Frank Taussig could not agree as to the reason for such rate-making power. The student was Edward H. Chamberlin, and the ideas in the paper were sufficiently original that his professor suggested it be submitted to theQuarterly Journal of Economics. It was returned, as Chamberlin noted much later, “no doubt with the highly relevant comment to the effect that it needed...

    • 7 UNEMPLOYMENT IN EQUILIBRIUM
      (pp. 65-78)
      John Maynard Keynes

      John Maynard Keynes is the most redoubtable name in contemporary economic thought, for the upheaval in economic theory in the 1930’s is usually associated with him. The appearance of hisGeneral Theory of Employment Interest and Moneyin 1936¹ marked an even sharper turning point in the development of economic thought than did the appearance of the marginal analysis of Menger and Jevons sixty-five years earlier. Keynes was a highly respected economist when he wrote theGeneral Theory,and he minced no words in stating the objective of his work.

      . . . The postulates of classical theory are applicable...

  9. PART THREE THE NEW ECONOMICS
    • 8 THE AMERICAN KEYNES
      (pp. 81-105)
      Alvin H. Hansen

      TheGeneral Theory of Employment Interest and Moneypresented a set of ideas which ultimately exerted a profound influence on the direction of economic theory and policy. The effect, however, did not come directly to the United States from Keynes. At the end of World War II, much of what Keynes was arguing remained quite foreign to the average student of economics on this side of the Atlantic. In England his position at Cambridge and his preeminence in public life gave Keynes access to a large and interested audience. At Cambridge he was quickly able to attract a remarkable group...

    • 9 FROM ECONOMIC WUNDERKIND TO POLICYMAKER
      (pp. 107-135)
      Paul A. Samuelson

      In 1935, a brash young student from the University of Chicago appeared at Harvard. It was, Paul Samuelson later recalled, a fortuitous choice, since it put him

      . . . right in the forefront of the three great waves of modern economics: the Keynesian Revolution,... the monopolistic or imperfect-competition revolution, and finally, the fruitful clarification of the analysis of economic reality resulting from the mathematical and econometric handling of the subject. . . .¹

      Samuelson’s enthusiastic response to these revolutions in economic thought eventually took him to Alvin Hansen’s seminar on fiscal policy. Two decades later, Paul Samuelson had replaced...

    • 10 THE ARTIST AS ECONOMIST
      (pp. 137-159)
      Abba P. Lerner

      Although Keynes’sGeneral Theoryis often thought of as revolutionizing popular attitudes towards the desirability of government intervention to stabilize the economy, the book itself is devoted almost entirely to pure theory. The reader of theGeneral Theorywill search in vain for the tools of fiscal policy that the beginning student is routinely taught in the macroeconomics portion of the course in principles of economics.¹ For the truth is that the systematic treatment of fiscal policy and the concepts associated with it were not the work of Keynes but rather that of his brilliant disciples, principally in America. Thus,...

    • 11 ECONOMIST AS SOCIAL CRITIC
      (pp. 161-190)
      John Kenneth Galbraith

      Despite the increasing interest which the subject of economics has generated in recent decades, few, if any, of the really important tracts in economic thought are ever read by a wide audience. Keynes’sGeneral Theoryor Samuelson’sFoundations of Economic Analysisare rarely found on household bookshelves; few laymen have ever heard of E.H. Chamberlin, A.C. Pigou, Alvin Hansen, Abba Lerner, or Alfred Marshall. Indeed, of the men considered thus far in the present volume, only Thorstein Veblen achieved a very wide audience for his views on the subject of economics, and he was depressed that his work was considered...

  10. PART FOUR THE NEW NEOCLASSICISM
    • Chapter 12 PHILOSOPHER OF THE COUNTERREVOLUTION IN ECONOMICS
      (pp. 193-205)
      Frank H. Knight

      In 1924, four years after A. C. Pigou fired his lethal salvo at the policy prescriptions of neoclassicism, an economist at the University of Iowa published a rather technical paper in the prestigiousQuarterly Journal of Economics.The author, Frank Hyneman Knight, already had some slight reputation in economics. Eight years earlier he had submitted a dissertation to the faculty of Cornell University, which was accorded a second prize in a competition sponsored by Hart, Schaffner and Marx.¹ The dissertation was published under the title ofRisk, Uncertainty and Profit.² It won for its young author a considerable amount of...

    • 13 RADICAL PROPONENT OF LAISSEZ-FAIRE
      (pp. 207-221)
      Henry C. Simons

      At the time of his death in April 1946, John Maynard Keynes was unquestionably the best known economist in the world. Not surprisingly, his death merited front page attention in the United States. In a lengthy obituary, theNew York Timespraised Keynes’s substantial contributions to economic thought and policy.¹ Two months later, the death of another economist received far less attention; buried far inside the June 20, 1946 issue of theTimeswas a story noting the death of “Henry Simons, forty-six, associate professor of Law and Economics at the University of Chicago.” After commenting on the immediate circumstances...

    • 14 CLASSICAL LIBERAL AS ECONOMIC SCIENTIST
      (pp. 223-262)
      Milton Friedman

      The intellectual revolutions that we have been describing in this volume were spawned from what their architects took to be empirical evidence. Pigou, Veblen, and Chamberlin were convinced from their observations that the assumptions of neoclassical economics were unrealistic; thus, they attempted to develop new and more relevant theories for their own time.

      But it should be clear that no single event in the history of the United States had more sweeping impact on economic thought than the Great Depression. Through the commentaries of Keynes, Hansen, and Lerner, academic thinking on economic matters underwent an upheaval, whose suddenness can be...

    • 15 CONCLUSION
      (pp. 263-266)

      Those intrepid enough to write a volume summarizing the policy controversies that divide contemporary economists are surely free of any obligation to provide a guide to the future. At least we have resisted mightily our recognition of this duty. A chapter titled, “What of the Future?,” would doubtlessly lend a proper air of contemplativeness to the study and provide a (short-run) reputation for profundity to its authors. But such prognostication is not for us. The history of economics suggests prudence in this regard. The questions of when and how the next revolution in economic thought and policy will come about...

  11. AFTERWORD: The Academic Scribblers after Twenty-Five Years
    (pp. 267-274)
    William Breit and Roger L. Ransom

    The Academic Scribblerswas first published in 1971. A revised edition appeared in 1982. In the concluding chapter to both editions we wrote:

    Those intrepid enough to write a volume summarizing the policy controversies that divide contemporary economists are surely free of any obligation to provide a guide to the future.... [S]uch prognostication is not for us. The history of economics suggests prudence in this regard. The questions of when and how the next revolution in economic thought and policy will come about are best left to the future to decide. Our excursion is over. It remains only to see...

  12. NAME INDEX
    (pp. 275-277)
  13. SUBJECT INDEX
    (pp. 278-282)