The Trend of Economic Thinking

“The Trend of Economic Thinking,” Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967/1969;  


“The position of the economists in the intellectual life of our time is unlike that of practitioners of any other branch of knowledge. Questions for whose solution his special knowledge is relevant are probably more frequently encountered than questions related to any other science. Yet, in large measure, this knowledge is disregarded and in many respects public opinion even seems to move in a contrary direction. Thus the economist appears to be hopelessly out of tune with his time, giving on practical advice to which his public is not disposed to listen and having no influence upon contemporary events. Why is this?

The situation is not without precedent in the history of economic thought; but it cannot be considered as normal, and there is strong reason to believe that it must be the result of a particular historical situation. For the views at present held by the public can clearly be traced to the economists of a generation or so ago. So that the fact is, not that the teaching of the economist has no influence at all; on the contrary, it may be very powerful. But it takes a long time to make its influence felt, so that, if there is any change, the new ideas tend to become swamped by the domination of ideas which, in fact, have become obsolete. Hence the recurring intellectual isolation of the economist. The problem of the relation between the economist and public opinion today resolves itself, therefore, into a question of the causes of the intellectual changes which have conspired to bring about this cleavage. It is this subject which I have chosen as the main theme of this lecture.”

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