Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Economists For The General Reader

What economists would you expect somebody with a general university education to have heard of? My list is quite short:

  • Adam Smith
  • Karl Marx
  • John Maynard Keynes

I expect these authors to function mostly as symbols in the popular consciousness. I might expect Americans above a certain age to have heard of John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman. Would they have heard of Paul Samuelson? He did have a column in Newsweek for a while. I first became aware of the existence of Joan Robinson by seeing a reference to her as the "British Galbraith". From what I've read, Nicholas Kaldor also had a certain public presence in Britain for a certain generation.

Given the highly technical nature of academic economists these days, it is hard for economists to invite the public into their discussions. I guess a theme of this blog is that most academic economists are not to be trusted. Others, such as Steve Keen, Fred Lee, and Bill Mitchell say fairly much the same. But I am not opposed to thinking of economics as a technical subject. I do not think I have resolved a tension here in my own mind.


Unlearningecon said...

I'd disagree with your first point here: Von Neumann, Hicks, Ricardo, Walras, Jevons and many others have all made appearances on my course. Only passing, yes, but appearances nonetheless.

Robert Vienneau said...

I was unclear. I did not intend to talk about what might be taught in university courses on economics.

I am speculating on what somebody several years out from university, somewhat interested in how the world around them is run, but not a specialist in economics, might be expected to know.

pqnelson said...

Ah, yes, the "slightly-educated-layreader".

I think Malthus is known for his apocalyptic views, but not so much for his economics...does that count?

David Ricardo pops up, usually associated with the Law of Iron Wages, in courses on modern European history (i.e., Renaissance to the present).

I don't know if people think of Marx as an economist, though. Everyone thinks of him as a Utopian thinker...

Emil Bakkum said...

Unfortunately I always confuse Adam Smith and Stanislav von Bortkiewicz

Will said...

Everybody knows Paul Krugman. I think most have heard of Veblen, too, if only in passing. Malthus has continued currency, as does perhaps John Stuart Mill (both for their contributions outside the strictly economic). How is it that David Ricardo is not a household name? Beats me.

(Amusingly, Eric Foner, toward the beginning of Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, throws off a reference to "Carey", as if the reader will know of Henry Carey. I would venture that few economists know of Carey!).