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What Was “It” That Robbins Was Defining?


This paper argues that Robbins’ famous definition of economics was of “economic science” which he saw as only a narrow branch of the field of economics. The field of economics included both economic science—which his definition dealt with, and political economy--which his essay did not deal with. His prescriptive message was that policy belonged in the “political economy” branch of economics. He believed that while the science of economics should avoid value judgments as much as possible, the political economy (applied policy) branch of economics should, and must, include value judgments. That prescriptive message has been lost.

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Article provided by Cambridge University Press in its journal Journal of the History of Economic Thought.

Volume (Year): 31 (2009)
Issue (Month): 04 (December)
Pages: 437-448

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Handle: RePEc:cup:jhisec:v:31:y:2009:i:04:p:437-448_99
Contact details of provider: Postal: Cambridge University Press, UPH, Shaftesbury Road, Cambridge CB2 8BS UK
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  1. Colander, David, 1993. "The Lost Art of Economics: Response," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 7(3), pages 213-15, Summer.
  2. David Colander, 2003. "The Aging of an Economist," Middlebury College Working Paper Series 0304, Middlebury College, Department of Economics.
  3. Daniel T. Slesnick, 1998. "Empirical Approaches to the Measurement of Welfare," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(4), pages 2108-2165, December.
  4. Sen, Amartya, 1970. "The Impossibility of a Paretian Liberal," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 78(1), pages 152-57, Jan.-Feb..
  5. Sen, Amartya Kumar, 1970. "The Impossibility of a Paretian Liberal," Scholarly Articles 3612779, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  6. O'Brien, Denis P, 1988. "Lionel Charles Robbins, 1898-1984," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 98(389), pages 104-25, March.
  7. Robbins, Lionel [Lord], 1981. "Economics and Political Economy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(2), pages 1-10, May.
  8. Keynes, John Neville, 1890. "The Scope and Method of Political Economy," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, edition 4, number keynes1890.
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