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By Lionel Robbins

Those lectures, added on the London university of Economics among 1979 and 1981 and tape-recorded via Robbins's grandson, exhibit his mastery of the highbrow background of economics and his enthusiasm for the topic. They hide a wide chronological diversity, starting with Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, focusing commonly on Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus and the classicals, and completing with a dialogue of moderns and marginalists from Marx to Alfred Marshall. Robbins takes a different and inclusive method of intellectural historical past and the lectures are united through his conviction that it really is very unlikely to appreciate appropriately modern associations and social sciences with no figuring out the guidelines in the back of their improvement.

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So, since this is a controversial subject, you must bear that in mind. Having said that, let me plunge at once into part, at least, of the controversy. In earlier days, when the history of economic thought first became the subject of serious attention, the treatment of the relevant theological writings of the Middle Ages seems to have been very sketchy and, according to more recent lights, to some extent misleading. In my young days I was an enthusiastic Guild Socialist, a movement which flourished during the First World War and shortly before, and I remember reading a book by an admirable man called Mr A.

If there is one thing that universities should teach you, and not all universities have taught that in the past or the present, it is open-mindedness and continual criticism of your own ideas. Well, then, I can just enumerate three ways in which one can actually arrange the subject. First of all you can discuss individual theories and their history. Viner’s Studies in the Theory of International Trade [1937] is a classic example of that. Cannan’s Production and Distribution [1924] is another good example.

For the members of the family originally had all things in common; in a more divided state of society they still shared in many things, but they were different things which they had to give in exchange for what they wanted, • P L A T O A N D A R I S T O T L E • 21 a kind of barter which is still practised among barbarous nations who exchange with one another the necessaries of life and nothing more; giving and receiving wine, for example, in exchange for corn and the like. This sort of barter is not part of the money-making art and is not contrary to nature, but is needed for the satisfaction of men’s natural wants.

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A History of Economic Thought by Lionel Robbins


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