The History of Economic Thought, as with all forms of history at the present time, is on its last legs. This is a post I put up on the Societies for the History of Economics (SHOE) list last week (July 23).
I am actually replying to two different postings, the first one from quite a while ago now, which was the death notice of one of HET’s greatest names, Donald Moggridge. I had assumed that after the two-line notice something more substantial would appear but it seems not. There must have been some notice taken somewhere else, but I just wish to say how much I appreciated the phenomenal effort that must have been required to edit Keynes’s Collected Writings. I will merely tell my own small story which was that there was some part of the thirty volumes that I came across that worried me enough not to pursue some line of inquiry until I had been to the Library at Kings to see what the original had actually looked like. And I was pleased in one sense – but disappointed given what I had intended to write – to find that the passage as printed was exactly as found in the original. I am no Keynesian, but Keynes was served astonishingly well by the work that Don Moggridge put in to edit his writings and his correspondence. The History of Economics has lost a great scholar.`Let me also note here how shallow economic theory has become due to the abandonment of its history by economists worldwide. “The inconvenient aunts locked away in garretts” discussed by Andrew Reamer are the many astonishingly deep analyses of the operations of an economy that are found in so many of the great works of economic theory that are not only no longer read, but no longer can be read. I have merely scratched the surface in my pursuit of the economics of John Stuart Mill, whose Principles, in my view, provides a better understanding of how an economy works than any of the textbooks we mass produce today. I therefore would like to support and endorse the views of Andrew Reamer, assuming I have understood him correctly, and can only wish that a new generation of economists will increasingly rediscover the lost treasures of our economic past. If economists are not scandalised by the economic policies which are being introduced around the world today, and do not say so in public, then really what is the point of any of what we are doing in writing the empty articles that pour out of our modern economic journals?
Although neoclassical economics relies on assumptions that should have been discarded long ago, it remains the mainstream orthodoxy. Three recent books, and one older one, help to show why its staying power should be regarded as a scandal.
- Mason Gaffney and Fred Harrison, The Corruption of Economics, Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers Ltd., 2006 (first published 1994).
- Stephen A. Marglin, Raising Keynes: A Twenty-First-Century General Theory, Harvard University Press, 2021.
- Alessandro Roncaglia, The Age of Fragmentation: A History of Contemporary Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, 2019.
- Robert Skidelsky, What’s Wrong with Economics?: A Primer for the Perplexed, Yale University Press, 2020.Opening:
Self-regarding economics departments at prestigious academic institutions no longer bother to teach the history of economic thought – a field that I studied at Yale University in 1977, forever compromising my academic career. Why was the topic abandoned – and even shunned and mocked? Students with a skeptical turn of mind would not be wrong to suspect that it was for scandalous reasons (as when, in past centuries, inconvenient aunts were locked away in garrets).
The four books reviewed here each uncover parts of the scandal. Three are brand new, and the other, The Corruption of Economics, first appeared in 1994 and was re-issued in 2006. Its principal author, the American economist Mason Gaffney, kept his remarkable pen flowing until passing away last summer at the age of 96.
You don’t often see an article as pointed as that and it was very welcome to me. But I have remained the only person who has entered into this discussion. I think it is interesting and worth continuing with but no one is willing to put their hand up any longer. Everywhere careers are too fragile to buy into any such controversy. And this was the note put up on June 23 announcing the death of Donald Moggridge.
I write to share the sad news that Donald E. Moggridge died peacefully in Toronto on April 10, 2021. Don was the main editor of The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes (1970-1989) as well as the author of biographies of Keynes (1992) and Harry Johnson (2008). Although subscribers to the SHOE list will know Don as a pre-eminent historian of economic thought, he was also a noted economic historian with a specialty in British monetary policy.
Perhaps there was no more to say, but perhaps there was. Anyone who has done work on Keynes must be extremely grateful for the painstaking efforts that went into the thirty volumes of the Keynes Collected Writings. I might add that I am such an outcast that Andrew Reamer has not bothered to write to me either, although I wrote to him offline on two occasions. And that I find just plain rude.