Lionel Robbins

Lionel Robbins

Overview
Lionel Charles Robbins, Baron Robbins, FBA
British Academy
The British Academy is the United Kingdom's national body for the humanities and the social sciences. Its purpose is to inspire, recognise and support excellence in the humanities and social sciences, throughout the UK and internationally, and to champion their role and value.It receives an annual...

 (22 November 1898 - 15 May 1984) was a British economist
Economics
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

 and head of the economics department at the London School of Economics
London School of Economics
The London School of Economics and Political Science is a public research university specialised in the social sciences located in London, United Kingdom, and a constituent college of the federal University of London...

. He is known for his proposed definition of economics, and for his instrumental efforts in shifting Anglo-Saxon economics from its Marshallian
Alfred Marshall
Alfred Marshall was an Englishman and one of the most influential economists of his time. His book, Principles of Economics , was the dominant economic textbook in England for many years...

 direction.

Robbins is famous for his definition of economics:
"Economics is a science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses."


A follower of William Stanley Jevons
William Stanley Jevons
William Stanley Jevons was a British economist and logician.Irving Fisher described his book The Theory of Political Economy as beginning the mathematical method in economics. It made the case that economics as a science concerned with quantities is necessarily mathematical...

 and Philip Wicksteed
Philip Wicksteed
Philip Henry Wicksteed is known primarily as an economist. He was also an English Unitarian theologian , classicist, medievalist, and literary critic....

, he was influenced by the Continental European economists: Léon Walras
Léon Walras
Marie-Esprit-Léon Walras was a French mathematical economist associated with the creation of the general equilibrium theory.-Life and career:...

, Vilfredo Pareto
Vilfredo Pareto
Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto , born Wilfried Fritz Pareto, was an Italian engineer, sociologist, economist, political scientist and philosopher. He made several important contributions to economics, particularly in the study of income distribution and in the analysis of individuals' choices....

, Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk
Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk
Eugen Ritter von Böhm-Bawerk was an Austrian economist who made important contributions to the development of the Austrian School of economics.-Biography:...

, Friedrich von Wieser
Friedrich von Wieser
Friedrich Freiherr von Wieser was an early member of the Austrian School of economics. Born in Vienna, the son of Privy Councillor Leopold von Wieser, a high official in the war ministry he first trained in sociology and law...

 and Knut Wicksell
Knut Wicksell
Johan Gustaf Knut Wicksell was a leading Swedish economist of the Stockholm school. His economic contributions would influence both the Keynesian and Austrian schools of economic thought....

.
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Encyclopedia
Lionel Charles Robbins, Baron Robbins, FBA
British Academy
The British Academy is the United Kingdom's national body for the humanities and the social sciences. Its purpose is to inspire, recognise and support excellence in the humanities and social sciences, throughout the UK and internationally, and to champion their role and value.It receives an annual...

 (22 November 1898 - 15 May 1984) was a British economist
Economics
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

 and head of the economics department at the London School of Economics
London School of Economics
The London School of Economics and Political Science is a public research university specialised in the social sciences located in London, United Kingdom, and a constituent college of the federal University of London...

. He is known for his proposed definition of economics, and for his instrumental efforts in shifting Anglo-Saxon economics from its Marshallian
Alfred Marshall
Alfred Marshall was an Englishman and one of the most influential economists of his time. His book, Principles of Economics , was the dominant economic textbook in England for many years...

 direction.

Theories and influences


Robbins is famous for his definition of economics:
"Economics is a science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses."


A follower of William Stanley Jevons
William Stanley Jevons
William Stanley Jevons was a British economist and logician.Irving Fisher described his book The Theory of Political Economy as beginning the mathematical method in economics. It made the case that economics as a science concerned with quantities is necessarily mathematical...

 and Philip Wicksteed
Philip Wicksteed
Philip Henry Wicksteed is known primarily as an economist. He was also an English Unitarian theologian , classicist, medievalist, and literary critic....

, he was influenced by the Continental European economists: Léon Walras
Léon Walras
Marie-Esprit-Léon Walras was a French mathematical economist associated with the creation of the general equilibrium theory.-Life and career:...

, Vilfredo Pareto
Vilfredo Pareto
Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto , born Wilfried Fritz Pareto, was an Italian engineer, sociologist, economist, political scientist and philosopher. He made several important contributions to economics, particularly in the study of income distribution and in the analysis of individuals' choices....

, Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk
Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk
Eugen Ritter von Böhm-Bawerk was an Austrian economist who made important contributions to the development of the Austrian School of economics.-Biography:...

, Friedrich von Wieser
Friedrich von Wieser
Friedrich Freiherr von Wieser was an early member of the Austrian School of economics. Born in Vienna, the son of Privy Councillor Leopold von Wieser, a high official in the war ministry he first trained in sociology and law...

 and Knut Wicksell
Knut Wicksell
Johan Gustaf Knut Wicksell was a leading Swedish economist of the Stockholm school. His economic contributions would influence both the Keynesian and Austrian schools of economic thought....

. Robbins succeeded Allyn Young in the chair of the London School of Economics
London School of Economics
The London School of Economics and Political Science is a public research university specialised in the social sciences located in London, United Kingdom, and a constituent college of the federal University of London...

 in 1929. Among his first appointments was Friedrich A. Hayek, who bred a new generation of English-speaking "continentals" such as John Hicks
John Hicks
Sir John Richard Hicks was a British economist and one of the most important and influential economists of the twentieth century. The most familiar of his many contributions in the field of economics were his statement of consumer demand theory in microeconomics, and the IS/LM model , which...

, Nicholas Kaldor
Nicholas Kaldor
Nicholas Kaldor, Baron Kaldor was one of the foremost Cambridge economists in the post-war period...

, Abba Lerner and Tibor Scitovsky
Tibor Scitovsky
Tibor de Scitovsky, also known as Tibor Scitovsky, , was a Hungarian born, American economist who was best known for his writing on the nature of people's happiness in relation to consumption...

. Frank Knight
Frank Knight
Frank Hyneman Knight was an American economist who spent most of his career at the University of Chicago, where he became one of the founders of the Chicago school. Nobel laureates James M. Buchanan, Milton Friedman and George Stigler were all students of Knight at Chicago. Knight supervised...

 was an American influence on Robbins.

Robbins was very familiar with the work of economists in Continental Europe
Continental Europe
Continental Europe, also referred to as mainland Europe or simply the Continent, is the continent of Europe, explicitly excluding European islands....

. Robbins became involved in the socialist calculation debate on the side of Ludwig von Mises
Ludwig von Mises
Ludwig Heinrich Edler von Mises was an Austrian economist, philosopher, and classical liberal who had a significant influence on the modern Libertarian movement and the "Austrian School" of economic thought.-Biography:-Early life:...

 and Friedrich Hayek
Friedrich Hayek
Friedrich August Hayek CH , born in Austria-Hungary as Friedrich August von Hayek, was an economist and philosopher best known for his defense of classical liberalism and free-market capitalism against socialist and collectivist thought...

, and against Abba Lerner, Fred Taylor
Fred M. Taylor
Fred Manville Taylor was a U.S. economist and educator best known for his contribution to the theory of market socialism. He taught mostly history at Albion College from 1879 to 1892. He taught in the department of economics at University of Michigan from 1892 to 1929 after receiving his Ph.D. in...

, and Oscar Lange.
Robbins was initially opposed to Keynes
John Maynard Keynes
John Maynard Keynes, Baron Keynes of Tilton, CB FBA , was a British economist whose ideas have profoundly affected the theory and practice of modern macroeconomics, as well as the economic policies of governments...

's General Theory, and the evolution of his explanation of economic development has been criticised several times. His 1934 treatise on the Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

 is an analysis of that period. Robbins saw his London School of Economics as a bulwark against Cambridge, whether it was populated by Marshallians or Keynesians. However, he was eventually to recant and accept the Keynesian Revolution
Keynesian Revolution
The Keynesian Revolution was a fundamental reworking of economic theory concerning the factors determining employment levels in the overall economy. The revolution was set against the then orthodox economic framework: neoclassical economics....

. Robbins' 1966 Chichele lecture on the accumulation of capital (published in 1968) and later work on Smithian
Adam Smith
Adam Smith was a Scottish social philosopher and a pioneer of political economy. One of the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, Smith is the author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations...

 economics, The Theory of Economic Policy in English Classical Political Economy, have been described as imprecise.

Although the ascendancy of the London School of Economics is foremost among Robbins' legacies, he was a free market
Free market
A free market is a competitive market where prices are determined by supply and demand. However, the term is also commonly used for markets in which economic intervention and regulation by the state is limited to tax collection, and enforcement of private ownership and contracts...

 economist who was also greatly responsible for the modern British university system—having advocated in the Robbins Report
Robbins Report
The Robbins Report was commissioned by the British government and published in 1963. The Committee met from 1961 to 1963...

 its massive expansion in the 1960s. He became the first Chancellor of the new University of Stirling
University of Stirling
The University of Stirling is a campus university founded by Royal charter in 1967, on the Airthrey Estate in Stirling, Scotland.-History and campus development:...

 in 1968. He also advocated massive government support for the arts, in addition to universities.

In the latter part of his life, Robbins turned to the history of economic thought
History of economic thought
The history of economic thought deals with different thinkers and theories in the subject that became political economy and economics from the ancient world to the present day...

, publishing various classic studies on English doctrinal history. Robbins' L.S.E. lectures, as he gave them in 1980 (more than fifty years after he first taught the subject upon his appointment in 1929), have been published posthumously (see 1998).

In 1959 he was created a life peer
Life peer
In the United Kingdom, life peers are appointed members of the Peerage whose titles cannot be inherited. Nowadays life peerages, always of baronial rank, are created under the Life Peerages Act 1958 and entitle the holders to seats in the House of Lords, presuming they meet qualifications such as...

 as Baron Robbins, of Clare Market
Clare Market
Clare Market was an area of London to the west of Lincoln's Inn Fields, between the Strand and Drury Lane, with Vere Street adjoining its western side...

 in the City of Westminster
City of Westminster
The City of Westminster is a London borough occupying much of the central area of London, England, including most of the West End. It is located to the west of and adjoining the ancient City of London, directly to the east of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and its southern boundary...

. The
Lionel Robbins Building at the London School of Economics
London School of Economics
The London School of Economics and Political Science is a public research university specialised in the social sciences located in London, United Kingdom, and a constituent college of the federal University of London...

 is named after him.

Works


Robbins' early essays were combative in spirit, stressing the subjectivist theory of value
Subjective theory of value
The subjective theory of value is an economic theory of value that identifies worth as being based on the wants and needs of the members of a society, as opposed to value being inherent to an object....

 beyond what Anglo-Saxon economics had been used to. He wrote a famous 1932 essay on economic methodology. His work on costs (1930, 1934) brought Wieser's "alternative cost" theorem of supply to England (which was opposed to Marshall's "real cost" theory of supply). His critique of the Marshallian theory of the representative firm (1928), and his critique of the Pigovian
Arthur Cecil Pigou
Arthur Cecil Pigou was an English economist. As a teacher and builder of the school of economics at the University of Cambridge he trained and influenced many Cambridge economists who went on to fill chairs of economics around the world...

 Welfare Economics
Welfare economics
Welfare economics is a branch of economics that uses microeconomic techniques to evaluate economic well-being, especially relative to competitive general equilibrium within an economy as to economic efficiency and the resulting income distribution associated with it...

 (1932, 1938), influenced the end of the Marshallian empire.

In his Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science
An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science
Lionel Robbins' Essay sought to define more precisely economics as a science and to derive substantive implications. Analysis is relative to "accepted solutions of particular problems" based on best modern practice as referenced, especially including the works of Philip Wicksteed, Ludwig von...

, Robbins made his Continental credentials clear. Redefining the scope of economics to be "the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses" (Robbins, 1932).

List of works

  • "Principles Of Economics", 1923, "Economics"
  • "Dynamics of Capitalism", 1926, Economica.
  • "The Optimum Theory of Population", 1927, in Gregory and Dalton, editors, London Essays in Economics.
  • "The Representative Firm", 1928, EJ.
  • "On a Certain Ambiguity in the Conception of Stationary Equilibrium", 1930, EJ.
  • Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science, 1932.
  • "Remarks on the Relationship between Economics and Psychology", 1934, Manchester School.
  • "Remarks on Some Aspects of the Theory of Costs", 1934, EJ.
  • The Great Depression, 1934. Scroll to chapter-preview links.
  • "The Place of Jevons in the History of Economic Thought", 1936, Manchester School.
  • "Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility: A Comment", 1938, EJ.
  • The Economic Causes of War, 1939.
  • The Economic Problem in Peace and War, 1947.
  • The Theory of Economic Policy in English Classical Political Economy, 1952.
  • Robert Torrens and the Evolution of Classical Economics, 1958.
  • Politics and Economics, 1963.
  • The University in the Modern World, 1966.
  • The Theory of Economic Development in the History of Economic Thought, 1968.
  • Jacob Viner: A tribute, 1970.
  • The Evolution of Modern Economic Theory, 1970.
  • Autobiography of an Economist, 1971.
  • Political Economy, Past and Present, 1976.
  • Against Inflation, 1979.
  • Higher Education Revisited, 1980.
  • "Economics and Political Economy", 1981, AER.
  • A History of Economic Thought: the LSE Lectures, edited by Warren J. Samuels and Steven G. Medema, 1998. Scroll to chapter-preview links.

External links