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History of Economic Thought

The Industrial Revolution of the 1700s gave rise to a considerable shift in the way people thought about the field of economics. Adam Smith’s treatise, The Wealth of Nations, was published during these years and is still considered an integral economic text. It incorporated ideas, research, and theories from academic thinkers and his own considerations on the topic of compensation, labor, distribution of wealth, and other key elements of the overall subject of economics. Smith is often considered the father of modern economics; however his work did not indicate the beginning or the end of the evolution of economic thought which continues to develop and shift with every passing year.

Early Economic Thought

Economic theories and concepts have been discussed and debated since the ancient times. Originally, economics wasn’t its own subject but rather a part of philosophy. Plato and Aristotle both made lasting contributions to the progress of economic thinking by theorizing about the most effective forms of land ownership by arguing for common ownership and private ownership respectively.

Aristotle, Menger, Mises: An Essay in the Metaphysics of Economics tracks economics from its early conception through major shifts in the economic landscape of the 1700s, 1800s, and beyond.

Aristotle on the Constitution of Social Justice and Classical Democracy looks at economics and politics in ancient times.

Ancient and Medieval Economic Thought and Institutions points out the origins of economic thought in Greece, Asia, and more.

Philosophy of Economics addresses early philosophers’ contributions to modern economic thought.

Mercantilists and Nationalism

The Middle Ages saw some expansions on economic theory, specifically delving into the way merchants priced goods. With the growth of exploration and travel in the 1400s and 1500s, economics took on a whole new framework. Economic thought during the Age of Mercantilism focused on international trade, taxes, surplus of exports, balance of trade, and other issues which were caused by increased trade between countries and their colonies. It should be noted that mercantilism was not dubbed until 1763, but the era is known today as the mercantilist’s age. Thomas Mun, Phillip Von Hornigk, and Kean Baptiste Colbert were prominent economic theorists of the age.

Mercantilism offers a simple breakdown of the nature of feudal economics which dominated economic thought during the Age of Mercantilism.

This presentation on Mercantilism from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology answers the three main questions about mercantilism and the system’s economic strengths and weaknesses.

The Rise of Europe: Atlantic Trade, Institutional Change and Economic Growth investigates mercantilism, the rise of trade, and the development of economic thought.

Religion and Economic Growth in Western Europe: 1500-2000 takes an interesting look at economics in Europe beginning with the mercantilism era.

Social, Cultural, and Economic Significance of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream pinpoints how this famous play exemplifies the economic changes taking place in Europe during the age of mercantilism.

Classical Economics

The 1700s ushered in the Industrial Revolution. This led to the depopulation of rural areas, the rise of poverty, the development of the working class, and many more issues which are widely studied as a part of economics even today. Classical economics is centered on the labor theory of value and how money plays a part in the economy. Most classical economists agreed that a free-market economy was most desirable.

Classical School of Economics is an outline of the era of economics from 1776-1871.

Limits to Growth Concepts in Classical Economics explains the behaviors of the classical economic growth model.

The Bankruptcy of Classical Economics, by Walter Haines, looks at some downfalls of the classical way of thinking, as well as a history of economic thought in general.

Socialist Economics

From classical economics grew socialist economics, a topic made famous by Karl Marx in the 1800s. Marx’s economics defined capitalism. His theories suggested that workers were paid for their labor and the profits from the goods they produced were pocketed by capitalists. These pocketed profits are known as surplus value. Marx suggested that people inflated the value of their goods in order to profit more from their business. He strongly supported political socialism.

The Socialist Economics of Karl Marx and His Followers looks at Marx’s economic and political ideologies and how they worked together.

What Economic Structure for Socialism? by David Kotz, addresses what economics would look like in a socialist structure in the past and present.

The Library of Economics and Liberty offers a complete biography of Karl Marx.

Karl Marx Works of 1844 presents Marx’s theories on wage labor, profit of capital, land rental, and more.

Marx’s Economic Theory – General Approach and Influence summarizes Marx’s economic influence and theories.

Neo-Classical Economics

Neo-classical economics was built on the idea that classical economics was flawed. This era developed independently throughout Europe and the world. Neo-classical studies go hand in hand with the marginal revolution. Marginal utility proposes that the value of a good diminishes as consumption increases. Put plainly, the first glass of water a hot and thirsty person drinks is worth more to them than the second or third glass once their thirst has been quenched. Marginal utility explains why certain goods like diamonds are so valuable, a point that classical economics did not explain.

The Political Origins of Neoclassical Economics by Chip Cariappa looks at the role of politics in the beginning of this economic era.

Can Neoclassical Economics Underpin the Reform of Centrally Planned Economies? by Peter Murrell investigates an interesting correlation between socialist thought and neoclassical economics.

Neoclassical Economics’ Pseudaoautonomous Individual: Cornelius Castoriadis and the Rise of ‘Generalised Conformism by D.T. Cochrane considers autonomy and neoclassical economics.

Austrian Economics

Carl Menger, an Austrian economist who founded the Austrian school of economic thought was a leader in the creation of the theory of marginal utility. Also, Menger conducted research into socialism and attempted to prove that it was not viable. Austrian economics was further expanded during the 1900s and was applied to large world economic concerns including the Great Depression in the United States.

The New School offers a run down on the Austrian School of economics as well as an extensive reference list.

F.A. Hayek: Austrian Economist and Social Theorist is a look at the work of Friedrich August von Hayek’s many contributions to economics.

Relevance of the Austrian School of Economics in the 21st Century is a video from professor of economics Peter Boettke which looks at Austrian economics in today’s world.

Carl Menger’s Theory of Invisible-Hand Explanations describes in depth the invisible hand theory which contradicted general economic thought of the 1800s.

Carl Menger’s Aristotelian Economics of Well-Being explains Menger’s unique views on the world and subsequent economic theories.

Keynesian Economics

World War I and the Great Depression in the United States, which affected Europe and many other countries throughout the world, was the beginning of Keynesian economics. Developed by John Maynard Keyes, a British economist who is well-known for his contribution at the Paris Peace Conference as well as the author of many economic books, Keynesian economics laid out the foundation for how the public sector or government can affect the private economy or businesses. Keynes presented many arguments for how tools such as interest rates, taxes, public projects commissioned by the government, and more could kick-start an economy.

The Crisis of Keynesian Economics, written by Geoffrey Pilling, follows the rise and fall of Keynesian economics throughout history.

Is Keynesian Economics a Dead End?, published in 1977, tries to discover an answer to this important question which was being asked in the latter half of the 1950s.

Whatever Happened to Keynesian Economics? addresses the reason why Keynesian economics as a theory lost steam in the latter part of the 1900s.

Global Economics

Today, economic thought has taken a global turn. With the rise of online communication, tele-conferencing, and affordable travel, the business and interpersonal world is highly interconnected. Economists today continue studying the topics which dominated previous economic ages while exploring new subjects such as promoting economic growth in developing and third-world countries, improving health, stimulating equal opportunity, and more.

How Far Will International Economic Integration Go? looks at the changing landscape of economics and predicts the future of a more globally connected world.

China in the Global Economy offers an economic snapshot of China, a major player in the world economy, and how the country affects the worldwide economy today incorporating different schools of economic thought.

The Global Economic Crisis, Its Gender Implications, and Policy Responses, by Stephanie Seguino, investigates two major aspects of the global economic crisis: decline in aggregate demand and the credit freezes.

Innovation and Job Creation in a Global Economy: The Case of Apple’s iPod takes a relevant look at how the global economic thought is played out through the modern manufacturing and selling of goods.

Outsourcing in a Global Economy introduces one of the most hotly debated aspects of a more global economy: outsourcing.