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What Was “It” that Robbins Was Defining?

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  • David COlander

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Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • David COlander, 2009. "What Was “It” that Robbins Was Defining?," Middlebury College Working Paper Series 0914, Middlebury College, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:mdl:mdlpap:0914
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    File URL: http://www.middlebury.edu/services/econ/repec/mdl/ancoec/0914.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Sen, Amartya Kumar, 1970. "The Impossibility of a Paretian Liberal," Scholarly Articles 3612779, Harvard University Department of Economics.
    2. Sen, Amartya, 1970. "The Impossibility of a Paretian Liberal," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 78(1), pages 152-157, Jan.-Feb..
    3. 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.
    4. O'Brien, Denis P, 1988. "Lionel Charles Robbins, 1898-1984," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 98(389), pages 104-125, March.
    5. Robbins, Lionel [Lord], 1981. "Economics and Political Economy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(2), pages 1-10, May.
    6. 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.
    7. Colander, David, 1993. "The Lost Art of Economics: Response," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 7(3), pages 213-215, Summer.
    8. 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.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Robbins, economic science and political economy
      by Nicholas Gruen in Club Troppo on 2009-10-25 05:21:15

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Thiago Dumont Oliveira & Carlos Eduardo Suprinyak, 2016. "The economist quae political economist: Lionel Robbins and the economic adivisory council," Textos para Discussão Cedeplar-UFMG 535, Cedeplar, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais.
    2. Colander, David C., 2009. "Economists, incentives, judgment, and the European CVAR approach to macroeconometrics," Economics - The Open-Access, Open-Assessment E-Journal, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW), vol. 3, pages 1-21.
    3. David Colander, 2011. "Applied Policy, Welfare Economics, and Mill’s Half-Truths," Chapters,in: The Elgar Companion to Recent Economic Methodology, chapter 8 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    4. M. Northrup Buechner, 2014. "A comment on scarcity," The Journal of Philosophical Economics, Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies, The Journal of Philosophical Economics, vol. 8(1), November.
    5. David Colander & Hugo Ñopo, 2011. "Educating Latin American economists," International Review of Economic Education, Economics Network, University of Bristol, vol. 10(1), pages 54-69.
    6. Pinto, Hugo, 2009. "A Economia em Ebulição: Integrando o Plural e a Moral numa Ciência Económica Satisfatória
      [Economics in Turmoil: Integrating Moral and Plural in a Satisfactory Economic Science]
      ," MPRA Paper 18718, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    7. David Colander, 2009. "How Did Macro Theory Get So Far off Track, and what Can Heterodox Macroeconomists Do to Get it Back On Track?," Middlebury College Working Paper Series 0911, Middlebury College, Department of Economics.
    8. Atsushi Komine & Fabio Masini, 2011. "The Diffusion of Economic Ideas: Lionel Robbins in Italy and Japan," Chapters,in: The Dissemination of Economic Ideas, chapter 9 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    9. David Colander, 2008. "The Making of a Global European Economist," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 61(2), pages 215-236, May.
    10. David Colander, 2009. "“What is so Austrian about Austrian Economics?”," Middlebury College Working Paper Series 0910, Middlebury College, Department of Economics.
    11. Remig, Moritz C., 2017. "Structured pluralism in ecological economics — A reply to Peter Söderbaum's commentary," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 131(C), pages 533-537.
    12. David Colander & Hugo Nopo Key Words: Latin American economics, global economics, political economy, graduate training, Latin America, applied economics, 2007. "The Making of a Latin American Global Economist," Middlebury College Working Paper Series 0705, Middlebury College, Department of Economics.

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    Keywords

    : definition of economics; political economy; science of economics; Robbins; value judgments;

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