I would have been five and would not have understood a single word. Still, I feel like I missed something.
Not too long ago a few colleagues of mine and I noticed that there are too few courses on economic history and history of economic thought in economics curricular today. Often, there are none. This is bad. Without the historic context we are bound to misinterpret and repeat mistakes. Without the historic context we do not know why we are where we are right now in economic science. Many approaches, assumptions, and conventions that seem obvious and natural today once were not, maybe they should not be today as they constrain our thought and handicap heterodox scholars.
Lionel Robbins must have been a great teacher. “A history of economic thought” edited by Steven Medema and Warren Samuels is a transcript of a lecture series Robbins gave at the LSE between 1979 and 1981. I am glad I have read it.
It is of course not a comprehensive history of economic thought; it is not “the” history, it is “a” history (Yes, please note this subtle modesty). It’s a history of economic thought as Robbins saw it. Although Robbins most of the times explicates the topic in an objective yet passionate way, he does not spare the occasional judgment. Always, however, he warns his audience that he is about to share an opinion and not an historic fact. Of course, the selection of focus is also a matter of personal judgment. In some cases, on the other hand, there is little room for choice. You have to cover the Scots. Nevertheless, he gives credit where credit is due. (And I have to admit that I have been negligently ignorant of some of the finer details.)
As a result of this excellent text I now feel motivated to embark upon further readings in economic history and history of economic thought – what may be a nice diversification to all the quantitative texts I read. I might even give a seminar on it…