On History of Economic Thought

Economics has been getting more mathematical with the passage of time. Students opt for maximum papers in mathematics so that they can remain competitive academically at the international level.

Stark inequalities are present in the syllabi within India. In the South, the undergraduate degree does not lay much of emphasis on mathematics in comparison to the North, where the emphasis on mathematics is very high. One reason is that, in the South a degree is Economics is considered as one of the Arts subject, while in the North it is transitioning into a Science subject.

This affects the discipline of Economics. In certain areas of Economics, it requires analysis which needs the use of mathematics; but is it that Economics requires mathematics in all areas’ But again, this depends on if one views Economics as a Positive or a Normative discipline.

Axel Leijonhufvud writes in his paper The Uses of the Past– The history of economic thought used to be part of the graduate studies in economics. Sixty or seventy years ago, it was common of famous teachers like Lionel Robbins or Jacob Viner to approach economic theory by way of its development. Today, of course, this is seen as an archaic way of going about it and it has become quite uncommon. The history of thought is still a tolerated subject-in at least a few places- but not one to be studied to improve ones understanding of today’s economics. [Via: New Economist]

For those who want to have a deeper understanding of the discipline of Economics, learning the history of economic thought will prove to be highly beneficial. It will help in understanding how the dominant theories came by and how the theories get refuted. When history of economic thought is aided with economic history, it will provide a clearer understanding of economics to the student.


1) The Uses of the Past, Axel Leijonhufvud, December 2006.

Further Readings

1) History of Economic Thought

2) History of Economics Society

3) History of Economic Thought Website

Marshallian Economics: Some thoughts

This post deals with the discipline of Economics as to how Alfred Marshall saw it in 1890. Here are some of the excerpts which i found interesting.

“Economics cannot be compared with the exact physical sciences: for it deals with the ever changing and subtle forces of human nature.”

“It is essential to note that the economist does not claim to measure any affection of the mind in itself, or directly; but only indirectly through its effect.”

“The economist studies mental states rather through their manifestations than in themselves. He estimates the incentives to action by their effects just in the same way as people do in common life.”

“A shilling may measure a greater pleasure (or other satisfaction) at one time than at another even for the same person; because money may be more plentiful with him, or because his sensibility may vary. It would therefore not be safe to say that any two men with the same income derive equal benefit from its use; or that they would suffer equal pain from the same diminution of it.”

“A stronger incentive will be required to induce a person to pay a given price for anything if he is poor than if he is rich. The benefit that is measured in the poorer man’s mind by the cost is greater than that measured by it in the richer man’s mind.”

Economics takes man just as he is in ordinary life: and in ordinary life people do not weigh beforehand the results of every action, whether the impulses to it come from their higher nature or their lower.”

“Economists study the actions of individuals, but study them in relation to social rather than individual life; and therefore concern themselves but little with personal peculiarities of temper and character. The measurement of motive thus obtained is not indeed perfectly accurate; for if it were, economics would rank with the most advanced of the physical sciences; and not, as it actually does, with the least advanced.”

“It is the business of economics, as of almost every other science, to collect facts, to arrange and interpret them, and to draw inferences from them. “Observation and description, definition and classification are the preparatory activities. But what we desire to reach thereby is a knowledge of the interdependence of economic phenomena…. Induction and deduction are both needed for scientific thought as the right and left foot are both needed for walking.”


1)Principles of Economics, Alfred Marshall