By Lionel Robbins
Those lectures, brought on the London tuition of Economics among 1979 and 1981 and tape-recorded via Robbins's grandson, demonstrate his mastery of the highbrow background of economics and his enthusiasm for the topic. They conceal a huge chronological diversity, starting with Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, focusing largely on Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus and the classicals, and completing with a dialogue of moderns and marginalists from Marx to Alfred Marshall. Robbins takes a different and inclusive method of intellectural background and the lectures are united by means of his conviction that it really is very unlikely to appreciate correctly modern associations and social sciences with no figuring out the information at the back of their improvement.
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Extra resources for A History of Economic Thought
He 22 • L E C T U R E 2 • goes on to say that “Men seek after a better notion of wealth and of the art of making money than the mere acquisition of coin, and they are right. , p. 18]. It is alright if you use money in order to procure the things that you need in the management of the household. But if you go into retail trade, which Aristotle obviously had some contempt for, and seek to make a profit out of it, then you pass out of what is natural and what is moral and you are indulging in an activity which is not intrinsically worthwhile like the art of household management: some persons are led to believe that making money is the object of household management, and the whole idea of their lives is that they ought either to increase their money without limit, or at any rate not to lose it.
In the Ethics, still as a moral philosopher, Aristotle is talking about justice and justice in exchange—reciprocal exchange. And he says that, in order that exchange may be just, it is necessary that the values exchanged may be equivalent, and in order that the values exchanged may be equivalent there must be a common measure of value. This is the reason for the invention of money. , the number of shoes which are equivalent to a house or a meal. As a builder then is to a cobbler, so must so many shoes be to a house or a meal; for otherwise there would be no exchange or association.
And if Plato’s Republic can be called communist, Plato’s Laws can be called fascist; but more of that in a moment. The important thing from our point of view is that Plato is the first man, or first famous writer (and if the professor had read all of the books that may have been written), to enunciate the principle of the division of labour. He gets to this in the course of this absolutely fascinating discussion of justice in the first book of the Republic. They talk in a very highbrow and elevated way about justice, and the conversation is then interrupted by a Sophist who says, roughly speaking, that all this talk about justice in an idealistic sense is nonsense and that justice is what works, roughly speaking.
A History of Economic Thought by Lionel Robbins