Friday, March 13, 2009

The Benevolence of Capitalism

"By virtue of exchange, one man's prosperity is beneficial to all others."

-- Frederic Bastiat, Economic Harmonies


(1801-1850) French economist, statesman, and author. He did most of his writing during the years just before -- and immediately following -- the French Revolution of February 1848

HT Liberty Quotes

6 comments:

Burgess Laughlin said...

A question for anyone familiar with the historical roots of economics: Has anyone written a history of free-market economists?

It might be as simple as a chronological series of chapters, one per economist--stating the main points of his own intellectual development and where he fits into the overall trends.

Suggestions?

Beth said...

I am unaware of such a work. What a wonderful idea!
I have recently come across an interesting volume which I have not had time to read (close to 1000 pages)titled The History of Economic Thought by Lewis Haney, MacMillan Co. 1949, but it is not specifically on free-market economists. I will pose this question to an Econ yahoo group I follow and get back to you.

Beth said...

OK. I was able to locate two possible works:
An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic thought by Murray Rothbard and The Making of Modern Economics by Mark Skousen.
I suspect each of the authors will have their own perspectives mixed into the works, but from their table of contents, they look like a place to start. Both are available at amazon.com. (Thanks to the folks at yahoo group "thebarstooleconomists" for their prompt replies!)

Michael Labeit said...

I was going to mention the Austrian economists as well but Beth beat me to it. Rothbard and a few others have written a lot on economic history. It can be found at mises.org if you don't mind navigating around the libertarian anarchism that gliters the website.

Beth said...

More on book suggestions:

RE: the Skousen book---caveat emptor
http://www.mises.org/story/668

From Mark Brady, econ prof at San Joe State University:
"I suggest you'd be better off reading a good history of economic
thought that explains how "free-market economists" -- whoever they are and they're a mixed bunch for sure -- contributed to the broader conversation...Twenty years ago I used Robert B. Ekelund and Robert F. Hebert’s A History of Economic Theory and Method, 2nd ed.(McGraw-Hill, 1983) for a class that I taught on the history of economic thought. The current edition is the fifth (Waveland Press, 2007). In summer 2005 I used Harry Landreth and David C.
Colander's History of Economic Thought, 4th ed. (Houghton Mifflin Co., 2002)and found it really quite good, not least because it gave serious consideration
to dissident perspectives, including the Austrian school. I’m considering adopting one or other book for my class (Econ 190A) this fall."

I am going to get Rothbard's book and then see if I can take Brady's class in the fall.

Burgess Laughlin said...

Thank you, everyone, for all the suggestions. From them, I see several possibilities emerging, each for a different audience:

1. A general history of economic ideas ("thought") that gives due attention to advocates of a free market among all the others. This would be primarily about theories, in historical order. Professor Brady has made suggestions for this category.

2. A history of ideas developed by advocates of the free market. The author of this more specialized work would need to define his subject (advocates of a free market) carefully to make room for borderline cases and look-alikes.

3. A socio-intellectual history of free-market economists, that is, economists (as specialized scientists) who were also advocates of a free market. By "socio-intellectual" I mean focused on:

(a) intellectuals (such as economists) as individuals (their careers, for example).

(b) their ideas (what did they inherit, what did they innovate).

(c) what they did in society to disseminate their ideas (teach, write, lecture to general audiences, work for "think-tanks," and so forth).

The situation seems to be ripe for an ambitious author to write book 2 or 3. The latter, especially, could be very informative to intellectual activists operating today in the field of economics because it would show what past economic/intellectual activists have done--both their errors and their triumphs in disseminating their ideas.

In other words, this third type of book would be similar in one respect to C. Bradley Thompson's Anti-Slavery Political Writings, 1833-1860: A Reader. However, the book I have in mind would be a history, not an anthology of original writings. It would be a history of what individuals thought and did to get their ideas out into the world.

To prepare for (in academic classes, for example), to research, to outline, and to write such a book shouldn't take more than 20 years to complete.