Economics Lionel Robbins

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  • Topic: Ludwig von Mises, Economic calculation problem, Economics
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  • Published : October 24, 2008
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Lord Lionel Robbins was born in 1898, and was one of the many great economists of our time. Robbins was known for his contributions to economic policy, methodology, and the history of ideas, but made his name as a theorist. Robbins was made famous for his definition of economics, "Economics is a science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses." (The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics 2007) Robbins was able to change the Anglo-Saxon thought economics off its Marshallian process and onto the Continental train of thought. In the twenties, he fought the idea of Alfred Marshall's concept of the "representative firm." He argued that the concept did not help one understand the equilibrium of the firm or of an industry. He also did some of the earliest work on labor supply, showing that an increase in the wage rate had an ambiguous effect on the amount of labor supplied. (The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics 2007) He was a follower of William Stanley Jevons and Philip Wicksteed. William Stanley Jevons wrote the book The Theory of Political Economy (1871) which expanded on the themes of his earlier 1866 paper and launching the Marginalist Revolution in the process. (History of Economic Thought WJ 2007) Philip Wicksteed was also a follower of Jevons and fellow economist writing The Common Sense of Political Economy in 1910, which comprehensively presents Wicksteed's economic system. Robbins was also heavily influened by many other Continental European economists as well. In 1929, he became the chair of the London School of Economics. During that time, one of his first appointements was Friedrich Hayek. Friedrich Hayek was considered a twentieth-century Renaissance man in the world of economics. Hayek was the best-known advocate of what is now called Austrian economics. (The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics 2007) Robbins early essays were quite controversial and combative in nature towards Anglo-Saxon economics. He stressed the ideas of subjectivist theory of value beyond what Anglo-Saxon economics were used to. Robbins also involved himself in the socialist calculation debate also called the economic calculation problem, which was criticism against socialist economics in short. Robbins was sided with Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, who first proposed the idea, against Abba Lerner, Fred Taylor, and Oscar Lange. The argument was based on, “without information provided by market prices it is impossible to rationally allocate resources.” (Hayek., F. A 1935) Robbins written work on costs, (1930, 1934) helped bring Wieser's "alternative cost" theorem of supply to England (which was opposed to Marshall's "real cost" theory of supply). (History of Economic Thought. LR 2007) His analysis of the Marshallian theory of the representative firm, and his assessment of the Pigovian Welfare Economics and the help of Frank Knight an American economist, this feat was possible in helping to end the Marshallian rein over Europe. Frank Knight was one of the century's most eclectic economists and perhaps the deepest thinker and scholar American economics has produced. His famous dissertation Risk, Uncertainty and Profit (1921) remains one of the most interesting reads in economics even today. (History of Economic Thought. FK 2007) In 1930, when Keynesianism started to take over in Britain, Robbins was initially opposed to Keynes’s General Theory and was the only member of the five-man Economic Advisory Council to oppose the idea. He sided with Austrian views that the depression was caused by under saving, which he built this concept in his paper The Great Depression (1934). Robbins views remain anti Keynesian until after World War II when he wrote The Economic Problem in Peace and War (1947) where his thought turned pro- Keynesian. Advocating Keynes’s policies of full employment through control of aggregate demand. (The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics 2007) In 1932, Robbins...
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