History of Economic Thought


As industrial capitalism emerged as the dominant economic system in Europe and North America in the 18th century, theorists sought to understand the logic of this new way of organizing production and distribution. What determined the price of goods? The wages of labor? The profits to owners of capital? They theorized about the dynamics of the system. What caused the economy to grow? Would it grow unceasingly? Cyclically? Or would capitalism inevitably decline into stagnation or collapse at some point? Theorists were also concerned with the role of government policy in this new capitalist system. Should the government actively regulate the economy, or should it play a minimal role and leave markets to determine outcomes without intervention? Should trade with other countries be regulated or free? What was the responsibility of the government with respect to the poor? Should they be assisted? Controlled? These questions were vigorously debated by political economists from the onset of capitalism and, to this day, continue to be the focus of disagreements among economists and political economists. This course will examine the development of economic theory through a focus on these debates about value, distribution, economic dynamics, and the role of government. The emphasis will be on reading authors in the original, including Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, Alfred Marshall, John Maynard Keynes, Joan Robinson, and Milton Friedman. Open to students with a background in economics, political theory, or related studies.