Lionel Robbins at 75

10 April 2007 at 11:12 am 3 comments

| Peter Klein |

This year’s Austrian Scholars Conference featured a panel on the 75th anniversary of Lionel Robbins’s influential Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science. (Both the first and second editions of the book are available online at Robbins’s definition of economics as “the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between scarce means which have alternative uses” is sometimes considered so pedestrian, so completely subsumed into the mainstream of economic theory, that the book itself gets little attention today. However, as explained by the panelists at the Robbins session mentioned above, the book’s argument is sophisticated and nuanced, and definitely still worth reading.

The LSE, Robbins’s professional home, is hosting a conference on the book in December 2007, sponsored by the LSE and the journal Economica. “The purpose of this conference is both to renew the considerations of Robbins’s theme and reflect on the current nature and significance of economic science as well as examine Robbins’s own position from a historical perspective.” Details below the fold (courtesy of SSRN).

NB: Israel Kirzner’s first book, The Economic Point of View (1960), about the history of the definition of economics, is also now available online.


                           CALL FOR PAPERS

                           75TH ANNIVERSARY

      This year marks the 75th anniversary of Lionel Robbins’s
      Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science.
      The Department of Economics at LSE and the editors of
      Economica have decided to mark this anniversary by a
      conference and a special issue of the journal.

      The purpose of this conference is both to renew the
      considerations of Robbins’s theme and reflect on the
      current nature and significance of economic science as well
      as examine Robbins’s own position from a historical


      The conference will take place at LSE on the 10 & 11 December
      2007. Authors who wish to present a paper should send an
      abstract (no more than 300 words) to:


      by 31st July 2007.

      Amos Witztum and Frank Cowell
      Conference organizers

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Austrian Economics, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Carl Marks  |  10 April 2007 at 11:59 am

    Could anyone tell me why Robbins decided to move away from hayek toward Keynes? I would love some sources on this. Almost every book just states that it happened and not why

  • 2. Shawn Ritenour  |  10 April 2007 at 4:27 pm

    Murray Rothbard discusses this in his essay, “Keynes the Man,” which is his contribution to the book DISSENT ON KEYNES (Praeger 1992, pp. 171-98). Based on quotations by Robbins himself, Rothbard attributes Robbins’ conversion to Keynes possessing “some sort of strong personal magnetism to which Robbins was succeptible.” Rothbard cites Robbins’ AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN ECONOMIST published in 1971 by MacMillan.

  • 3. Carl Marks  |  10 April 2007 at 11:45 pm

    Thank you for your comment. I have read both of these (Keynes the Man was what sparked my interest) but still came away without a concrete answer, and there may not be one. I was hoping to find a seminal moment, but the closest I could find is when Robbins comes to the conclusion during the depression that Austrian theory could not adequately explain the current economic woes.
    Why the turn to Keynes he has never fully justified, but it could be that he was the only other major kid on the blog, as well as Robbins’ desire to always be on the cutting edge of economics, and Keynes’ instistence that he possessed the solution.

    I guess that just leads me to my next research assignment of how Hayek was interpreting the causes and solution to the depression.

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