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Ethics And The Science Of Economics: Robbins'S Enduring Fallacy




The basic principles of Robbins's Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science are still present in most textbooks in economics. We thus face a combined problem of historical and contemporary nature. Robbins's assertion concerning the ethics–economics relationship has two main difficulties. Firstly, the presumption of means–ends analysis, which is oblivious of the ends people seek to promote, is not as neutral as it appears. Robbins chooses to ignore the ends by focusing on cost minimization. This implicitly (though not inherently) suggests another end—wealth, or means, maximization—which by no means can be considered as ethically neutral. Secondly, there is an implicit assumption that whatever the ends people seek to promote, there will always be a coordinated outcome to their actions. As competitive prices are the means to achieve waste minimization (through proper pricing by opportunity costs), the assumed coordination must be that of general equilibrium and, thus, cooperative-based coordination must be excluded.

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  • Witztum, Amos, 2011. "Ethics And The Science Of Economics: Robbins'S Enduring Fallacy," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, vol. 33(04), pages 467-486, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:jhisec:v:33:y:2011:i:04:p:467-486_00

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Fox, Karl A, 1989. "Agricultural Economists in the Econometric Revolution: Institutional Background, Literature and Leading Figures," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 41(1), pages 53-70, January.
    2. Malcolm Rutherford, 2003. "On the Economic Frontier: Walton Hamilton, Institutional Economics, and Education," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 35(4), pages 611-653, Winter.
    3. H. Spencer Banzhaf, 2006. "The Other Economics Department: Demand and Value Theory in Early Agricultural Economics," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 38(5), pages 9-31, Supplemen.
    4. Rutherford, Malcolm & Desroches, C. Tyler, 2008. "The Institutionalist Reaction To Keynesian Economics," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, vol. 30(01), pages 29-48, March.
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