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What Was “It” That Robbins Was Defining?

  • COLANDER, DAVID

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. Moreover, it was descriptive, not prescriptive, and was simply a statement that that was what economists were then doing in the science of economics. His prescriptive message was that policy belonged in the “political economy” branch of economics, and that the science of economics should avoid value judgments, but that political economy should 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
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  1. 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.
  2. Colander, David, 2003. "The Aging of an Economist," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, vol. 25(02), pages 157-176, June.
  3. 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..
  4. O'Brien, Denis P, 1988. "Lionel Charles Robbins, 1898-1984," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 98(389), pages 104-25, March.
  5. Sen, Amartya Kumar, 1970. "The Impossibility of a Paretian Liberal," Scholarly Articles 3612779, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  6. Colander, David, 1993. "The Lost Art of Economics: Response," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 7(3), pages 213-15, Summer.
  7. 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.
  8. Robbins, Lionel [Lord], 1981. "Economics and Political Economy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(2), pages 1-10, May.
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