HISTORY OF ECONOMIC THOUGHT
For a Word version of this syllabus, click here.
Professor Steven Horwitz Fall 1993
108 Hepburn Hall TTh 12:40-2:10
379-5731 (office) 105 Hepburn
Office Hours: M 1-3; T, Th 2:30-3:30 and by appointment
This course is something a little bit different from most other upper-level economics courses. Rather than examining how existing economic theory can be developed and applied to specific areas within economics, we will instead be looking back through the history of economic thought to understand how existing economic theory came to be. In particular, we want to understand both how mainstream neoclassical economics came to dominate the profession and how some alternative schools of thought have evolved and how they challenge neoclassicism.
Given my own expertise and interests, the focus of this course will be on the development of economic thought since the 1870s. The catalog description of the course emphasizes Adam Smith and Karl Marx, and they have been the central figures when Dr. Young has taught it. However, our focus will be on the so-called marginalist revolution of the 1870s and the various schools of thought that emerged from it. We will be reading two of the three actual texts that are responsible for that revolution and we will attempt to trace its strands all the way to current issues in economic thought. We will spend some significant time on the rise and fall of Keynesian economics which we will examine through Keynes' own words.
The goal of this course is not just to be familiar with what a lot of mostly dead economists have said. That's important, but what's more important is understanding how where economics is today, and especially what's wrong with it, can be understood by looking at the path by which economic theory has evolved. I will try as much as possible to relate the older ideas we will explore to modern theoretical and political ideas and controversies that you might have come across in other courses.
You should be aware from the start that this course will involve a significant reading load, both in terms of quantity and difficulty, as well as a good deal of writing and a strong expectation of class participation. I don't think you'll be able to do well if you can't or don't keep up with the reading and participate in class. I am not going to lecture at you for 14 weeks - you need to do the reading and come to class prepared to discuss and ask questions.
BOOKS AND ASSIGNMENTS
There are four required and one recommended book for this course. The textbook is Ekelund and Hebert's A History of Economic Theory and Method. The other three books are seminal contributions to the history of economics. Carl Menger's Principles of Economics and William Stanley Jevons' The Theory of Political Economy ignited the marginalist revolution in the 1870s and John Maynard Keynes' The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money defined economics for a good part of the 20th century. The recommended book is Don McCloskey's The Writing of Economics. It's cheap, it's excellent, it's relevant for any course at this university. There will also be a small packet of outside readings available for purchase.
Your grade will be comprised of four parts. There will be two substantial papers due during the course of the semester. These will be 5 to 8 pages long and on topics to be passed out during the term. I will also be passing out my world-famous guide to paper writing early on in the semester. You will also have the opportunity to revise both papers if you wish. You must revise at least one, you may revise the other. Each paper will count 20%.
The other major written assignment will be an ongoing research project. Early in the semester I will pass out a list of economists. Your job is to choose one on whom you wish to become an expert. Over the course of the semester you will be asked to complete a series of library research and reading assignments relating to your choice. These will include a biography, an intellectual biography, summaries of the author's own articles or book, and summaries of articles or a book about the economist. You will NOT be writing an actual research paper, your grade will be based on how well you do the research itself.
I will read each individual assignment and give you comments, but the project will be graded as a portfolio consisting of all four parts. When you hand in the final portion of the project, you will also hand in the rest of the already graded portions. Instead of writing the paper, the final exam will include a question that will require you to relate your research to the course. We'll talk about this assignment a great deal more as we go on, and I will pass out a separate schedule for the individual pieces of research. The research project (not counting the final essay) is worth 25%.
Your grade will also include an open books/notes final exam worth 25%. The exam will be an essay exam asking you to summarize, analyze and integrate the semester's material. The exam is scheduled for Monday December 13 at 1:30pm. The remaining 10% of your grade will be class participation. As usual, this will be based not just on quantity but also quality.
I have given you my home phone number,
please don't abuse the privilege. Don't call before 9:00am or after 9:00pm.
I have never taught this course before, but I'm really looking forward
to it, and, with your help, I think we'll all learn a lot and manage to
have some fun too.
ASSIGNMENT SCHEDULE AND GRADING BREAKDOWN
Paper #1 Tue Oct 5 20%
Paper #2 Thu Nov 18 20%
Final Exam Mon Dec 13 1:30 25%
Research Project various times 25%
Class Participation 10%
There may be a curve, but it will be no
tougher than this.
This syllabus is to be viewed as a contract and the final court of appeal for relevant disputes. I RESERVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE CHANGES TO DATES AS NECESSARY. ANY CHANGES WILL BE ANNOUNCED IN CLASS AND BEING AWARE OF THEM IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.
NARRATIVE OUTLINE AND SCHEDULE
(Underlines refer to books, EH is the text, others in packet)
Topic (dates) Reading
INTRODUCTION AND THE BACKGROUND OF CLASSICAL ECONOMICS (8/26 - 9/7)
An overview of economics EH (1)
Adam Smith and economic theory EH (5)
Classical economics EH (pp. 127-132; 7, 8;
We begin with a thumbnail sketch of the
history of economics, with some emphasis on the themes we will develop
this semester. The most important of those is whether economic theory took
the wrong path leading away from the marginal revolution of the 1870s.
Economics has become almost a branch of applied mathematics with apparently
ever-decreasing relevance to real world problems. The question to ask is
whether it had to be that way. In other words, what was the opportunity
cost of mathematizing the discipline. To see the revolutionary implications
of marginalism, we need a brief review of classical economics, especially
its theories of value.
MARGINALISM AND MARSHALL (9/9 - 10/5)
The early precursors EH (12)
Menger's marginalism Menger (pp. 45-225);
Jevons' marginalism Jevons (pp. 1-166)
From Jevons to Marshall EH (15)
Walras' marginalism EH (16)
De-homogenizing marginalism Jaffe (1976)
This is the core section of the course. We will explore the thinking of the three marginal revolutionaries (Carl Menger, William Stanley Jevons and Leon Walras) in some detail. Our purpose here is not just to understand what each said, but try to get a handle on their differences and how each one's thinking relates to the way economists see their discipline today. Specifically, we will compare: their views on the nature of economics, their use of mathematics, what each meant by "marginal utility," to what degree was each a "subjectivist" about value, what assumptions each one employs, and the political implications (if any) of each one's version of marginalism. We will end with Jaffe's classic essay which tries to disentangle the three thinkers and points us toward the path each one's followers would take in the 20th century.
PAPER #1 DUE TUESDAY OCTOBER 5TH
RADICAL DISSENT: MARXISM AND INSTITUTIONALISM (10/7 -10/19)
Early opponents of classicism EH (10)
Karl Marx's systematic critique EH (11); Engels (1844)
Veblen and institutionalism EH (17)
Of course not everyone agreed with either classical economics or the neoclassical revolution. In this section we will take a brief look at some of the dissenters of the 19th and early 20th century. One set of opponents to the whole thrust of Smith's view of the world were the Saint-Simonians and their so-called "constructivism." Later in the 19th century, Marx fused this view of the social world with Ricardian economic theory and German philosophy to develop a far more systematic critique of both economic theory and laissez-faire. In the late 20th century Marxism is virtually dead in economics, but the most prominent radical critics of neoclassicism are the institutionalist economists who found their roots in early opposition to marginalism by Thorstein Veblen.
THE RISE AND FALL OF KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS (10/21 - 11/16)
"Macroeconomics" before Keynes Warburton (1981)
Overview of Keynes EH (19)
The critique of classicism Keynes (chs. 1-3)
The theory Keynes (chs. 8-17)
Rejecting laissez-faire Keynes (ch. 24)
The aftermath Yeager (1986)
The monetarist alternatives EH (20)
Our second major section of the course concerns Keynesian economics. The Keynesian revolution was to the 20th century what marginalism was to the 19th, with one major exception: as a whole, Keynesianism has been reputed by most economists. However, there are numerous remnants of it still around as well as what we might call the "opportunity cost of Keynes." What might economics have looked like if Keynes has not been accepted? We will explore all of these questions in this section by looking at what came before Keynes, what Keynes himself actually said, and what has come since. We will try to link our discussion here to our earlier look at the marginalists, especially their notions of what economics should study and how it should study it.
PAPER #2 DUE THURSDAY NOVEMBER 18
CHICAGO AND MODERN MICROECONOMICS (11/18 - 11/30)
Friedman's method Friedman (1953)
Studying economic man EH (23)
Most of modern microeconomics has been
a consistent pushing forward of the Jevonian and Walrasian branches of
the marginalist revolution. Modern micro is an unholy combination of the
mathematical versions of marginalism and the pseudo-positivist physics
envy inspired by Milton Friedman's methodological defense of both mathematics
and unrealistic assumptions. In this section we will look at Friedman's
classic essay and explore the so-called "Chicago" approach to microeconomics
in the work of Nobel winners Gary Becker, George Stigler, and Ronald Coase.
NEO-LIBERAL DISSENT: PUBLIC CHOICE AND THE AUSTRIANS (12/2 - 12/9)
The economics of politics EH (24)
Austrian economics Kirzner (1973); EH (21)
Not everyone, once again, is completely
comfortable with the theoretical and political direction taken by 20th
century economics. One of the major new ideas of the last 30 years, and
a very effective response to Keynesianism, has been the development of
public choice economics, or the application of economic theory to political
exchange. Rather than viewing government as a benevolent despot doing whatever
economists deem right, public choice starts with the self-interest of political
actors and progresses from there. Austrian economists, the modern heirs
of Menger, have deep reservations about the modern preoccupation with equilibrium
and the assumptions which economic theory makes about knowledge. The Austrians
too see their theories as a response to Keynes and other opponents of laissez-faire.
The resurgence of markets and classical liberalism around the world has
been significantly fueled by both of these schools of economic thought.
Jevons, William Stanley. 1931 . The Theory of Political Economy, fourth edition, Charlottesville: Ibis Publishing.
Keynes, John Maynard. 1964 . The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Menger, Carl. 1976 . Principles
of Economics, New York: New York University Press.
Friedman, Milton. 1953. "The Methodology of Positive Economics," in Essays in Positive Economics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953.
Jaffe, William. 1976. "Menger, Jevons, and Walras De-homogenized," Economic Inquiry 14, December.
Kirzner, Israel. 1973. "Market Process versus Market Equilibrium," from Competition and Entrepreneurship, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Warburton, Clark. 1981. "Monetary Disequilibrium Theory in the First Half of the Twentieth Century," History of Political Economy 13 (2), Summer.
Yeager, Leland B.. 1986. "The Keynesian
Heritage in Economics," in Keynes's General Theory: Fifty Years On,
John Burton, et.al., eds., London: The Institute of Economic Affairs, 1986.