Front Page Titles (by Subject) Twentieth–Century Economic Points of View - The Economic Point of View
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Twentieth–Century Economic Points of View - Israel M. Kirzner, The Economic Point of View 
The Economic Point of View: An Essay in the History of Economic Thought, ed. with an Introduction by Laurence S. Moss (Kansas City: Sheed Andrews McMeel, 1976).
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Twentieth–Century Economic Points of View
Fraser has classified definitions of economics into Type A definitions and Type B definitions.30 Type A definitions consider economics as investigating a particular department of affairs, while Type B definitions see it as concerned with a particular aspect of affairs in general. The specific department singled out by Type A definitions has usually been wealth or material welfare. The aspect referred to in Type B definitions is the constraint that social phenomena uniformly reveal in the necessity to reconcile numerous conflicting ends under the shadow of an inescapable scarcity of means.
During the twentieth century two distinct trends are visible in the definitions of the economic point of view. On the one hand, a transition from Type A to Type B definitions has been vigorously carried forward. On the other hand, there has been a pronounced movement toward the denial of any distinctly economic point of view whatsoever, and the consequent conviction that all attempts to present such a point of view with clarity must be a waste of time.
It will be seen in subsequent chapters that the classification of definitions of the economic point of view into Types A and B is far from an exhaustive one. The voluminous literature since the turn of the century dealing with the problem of definition reveals, indeed, the entire range of formulations that are discussed in this essay. Nevertheless, it remains true that the most outstanding development in the history of the problem is the switch from the search for a department of human affairs to which the adjective “economic” applies, to the search for the appropriate aspect of affairs in which economic concepts are of relevance. (It should be noticed that almost all the numerous formulations of the specific point of view of economic science are considered by their authors, not as describing a new science, but as offering a more consistent characterization of the existing discipline.)31 The emergence of the Type B definitions is reflected in a considerable body of literature on the continent as well as in the English–speaking countries. Type A definitions are treated in the second chapter of this essay, and the transition to Type B definitions is traced in the sixth chapter. Type B definitions are associated especially with the name of Professor Robbins, whose work of 1930 has had an outstandingly stimulating effect on all subsequent discussions.
The final chapter of this essay traces the further development, in recent decades, of this trend away from the association of economics with specific “ends” or a specific department of human affairs. In this development the work of Robbins has been consistently pursued to what appears to the writer to be the most adequate solution of the problem. The developments described in this final chapter are made up of the contributions of several eminent economists, including Mises and Knight. These writers in no way constitute a “school,” and although in this essay the developments of the final chapter are described as “praxeological” (following Mises’ terminology), it is not to be understood that all the writers cited in that chapter fully subscribe to what is here called the praxeological outlook. It is maintained, however, that the consistent and refined development of the ideas first brought to a focus in the Type B definition constitutes a distinct contribution to the history of the problem. The path–breaking work of Mises in this regard has a significance that, in the writer’s opinion, has not been sufficiently recognized because it has not yet been brought into historical perspective.
The movement from Type A definitions toward Type B definitions and finally to the praxeological position runs, of course, in a direction diametrically opposed to that taken by writers who disparage painstaking definitions of economics altogether. What is common to all these writers is, as was noticed earlier in this chapter, that they deny the existence of any given “pie” that could constitute economics. There is no specifically economic point of view, and economic science does not investigate any uniquely separate group of phenomena, or phenomena in general from any uniquely economic aspect. The consistent development of the Type B definition and of praxeological ideas represents the completest denial of this view. Both these conceptions of economics have been able to focus attention, with a clarity never hitherto attained, on an element in our experience that corresponds to nothing else in our consciousness. This element in our experience conforms precisely to the foundation that is discovered to be rigorously necessary and sufficient for the construction of economic theory as it has developed during the past two centuries.
The body of this essay consists of the study of the many alternative formulations of this economic point of view, which make up the trend culminating in the insights of the final chapters.
The Science of Wealth and Welfare
This fatal word “material” is probably more responsible for the ignorant slanders on the “dismal science” than any other economic description...
Alec L. Macfie
Political Economy is a science in the same sense in which Astronomy, Dynamics, Chemistry, Physiology are sciences. Its subject–matter is different; it deals with the phenomena of wealth, while they deal with the phenomena of the physical universe.
J. E. Cairnes
...In becoming consciously a science of human behavior economics will lay less stress upon wealth and more stress upon welfare.
Wesley C. Mitchell
It is almost as difficult to define the boundaries of welfare economics as it is to define economics itself.
Kenneth E. Boulding
We take up first of all the class of writers for whom the specifically economic point of view is in some way necessarily associated with wealth or with welfare. It seems fair to consider this view before examining the many other opinions extant in the literature, simply because its supporters (those espousing what Fraser calls the Type A viewpoint)1 were for a long time the ones most frequently to be found in discussions on the subject. And it is a matter of no little significance that it was one form of this view, viz., the description of the economic side of affairs exclusively in terms of wealth, that the earliest classical economists almost invariably adopted. In the course of our discussion it will become apparent that a number of quite different conceptions of economic phenomena at various times found expression in the definitions that simply spoke of wealth or welfare as being the central focus of economic interest. Yet despite the variety of these conceptions they all admit of being broadly grouped together. Those writers who speak of the production of wealth and the distribution of wealth or of some special type of human welfare as being the peculiar interest of the economist share a common outlook on the subject. No matter how widely their opinions on the nature of wealth or welfare may diverge, what is common to all these writers is that they see the distinctive peculiarity of economic phenomena in the class of objects around which they especially revolve or in the specific human condition that they are thought especially to affect. The criterion used by the student of economic phenomena to mark out the scope of his subject is the fact that it is concerned with a special class of objects or a special type of human condition. The botanist studies the phenomena of plant life, the astronomer studies celestial phenomena, the philologist studies a specific “object,” viz., languages—and the economist quite analogously occupies himself with the study of wealth or welfare. The conditions governing the production of wealth or the enhancement of economic welfare, the effects of given events on the exchange and the distribution of wealth—all these are “economic” phenomena because they have to do with wealth or welfare.
We shall see that many writers of this opinion still further narrowed down the concept of wealth to the idea of material wealth, and many of those stressing welfare qualified the term by singling out the material welfare of mankind. These developments meant that more than ever economics has to do with a particular class of objects as its special province of study. And we shall be concerned in this chapter to explain the emergence of this general outlook on the nature of economics simultaneously with the emergence of the science of economics itself. We shall also be concerned to trace the various forms that this general outlook has taken in response to developments within the science of economics and to discover some of the implications of this outlook.
[]L. M. Fraser, Economic Thought and Language (2nd printing, 1947), ch. 2.
[]The following references support the conclusion that writers who have sought to define the scope of economics have done so with regard to the discipline as it has actually developed, not to any projected subject: A. Marshall, The Present Position of Economics (London, 1885); L. Robbins, Nature and Significance of Economic Science (2nd ed.; London, 1935), p. 22; R. T. Bye, “The Scope and Definition of Economics,” Journal of Political Economy, October, 1939; A. Amonn, Objekt und Grundbegriffe der theoretischen Nationalökonomie (1911), p. 12.
[]L. M. Fraser, Economic Thought and Language (London, 1947), pp. 21 ff.