Front Page Titles (by Subject) Political Economy & Economic Science - Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1982, vol. 5, No. 3
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
Political Economy & Economic Science - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1982, vol. 5, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
This work is copyrighted by the Institute for Humane Studies, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, and is put online with their permission.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Political Economy & Economic Science
“Economics and Political Economy.” Richard T. Ely Lecture. The American Economic Review 71 (May 1981): 1–10.
Following David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature and Carl Menger's Grundsätze, Professor Robbins first defines the subject matter of Economic Science as the study of human behavior conditioned by scarcity. As such Economic Science conceives of scarcity as the relationship between objectives, either personal or collective, and the means of satisfying them. The limitation of goods confronted with conceivable demand is the necessary condition of the activity of human economizing.
As regards the status of economics as a science, Robbins sees no reason to deny its susceptibility to the usual logical requirements of a science, though he emphasizes the peculiar nature of its subject as concerned with conscious beings capable of choice and learning. He does not believe that such analysis necessarily involves ideological bias. But beyond that, in the application of Economic Science to problems of policy, he insists that we must acknowledge the introduction of assumptions of value that are essentially incapable of scientific proof. For this reason, while not denying the value of some thought going under that name, he urges that the claims of Welfare Economics to be scientific are highly dubious. He then goes on to argue the lack of realism which is involved by some of the inferences which may be drawn from the assumptions of Welfare Economics.
In the place of Welfare Economics, Robbins recommends what he calls Political Economy which, at each relevant point, ought to declare all nonscientific assumptions. He next furnishes some indications of the leading criteria and fields of speculation which should underlie this intellectual field.
In his conception of the task of Political Economy, he believes that “as teachers of the subject, our instructions will be more fruitful if, side by side, they run parallel with suitable courses in Politics and History—Politics because it deals systematically with philosophical and constitutional matters which as regards Political Economy only arise incidentally; History, because while it certainly does not lay down laws by which we can foretell the future, it does give a feeling for the possibilities of action.…I fancy that such exhortations are more at home in my own country where excessive specialization in the first-degree stage, productive of one-eyed monsters, is too frequently the order of the day.”