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Political Economy: History with the Politics Left Out?

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Abstract This paper argues that Milonakis and Fine, in their book From Political Economy to Economics, offer an account of history that systematically omits discussion of how economics has been shaped by the political and social context in which it developed. This contrasts with work by intellectual historians who have argued that such factors were crucial to understanding the history of economic ideas. It is ironic given that Milonakis and Fine are criticising economists for excluding the political and the social from economics.

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38. FN1 1. From Political Economy to Economics: Method, the Social and the Historical in the Evolution of Economic Theory(cited as Milonakis and Fine 2009). I should note that I have taken this volume as a self-contained work, and have not paid attention to their second volume, From Economics Imperialism to Freakonomics: The Shifting Boundaries between Economics and Other Social Sciencesbecause to do so would involve confronting a different set of issues. For this reason I have refrained from discussing material where that omission would seem likely to be important.
39. FN2 2. See the survey by Tribe 1999.
40. FN3 3. Winch 1978 and 1996.
41. FN4 4. Skinner 1996.
42. FN5 5. Rothschild 2001.
43. FN6 6. See Winch 1996.
44. FN7 7. Waterman 1991.
45. FN8 8. See, in particular, Rothschild 2001 and Stedman-Jones 2004.
46. FN9 9. McCulloch 1824.
47. FN10 10. A further argument supporting this could be derived from the evidence provided by economic historian E.A. Wrigley (Wrigley 2004). He argues that Smith’s vision of ‘the natural progress of opulence’ accurately represented the economic circumstances of his time and that what came to be known as the Industrial Revolution, made possible by exploiting a new source of energy, marked a decisive break. The classical economists were aware of this in a way that Smith could not have been.
48. FN11 11. I put in the last qualification because I would question the merit of regarding neoclassical economics as a homogeneous entity, something I do not wish to go into here.
49. FN12 12. Stedman-Jones 2004.
50. FN13 13. Rothschild 2001, p. 59.
51. FN14 14. See Winch 2009.
52. FN15 15. A useful compendium, comprising 100 articles, is to be found in Raffaelli, Becattini and Dardi (eds.) 2006.
53. FN16 16. As published in Raffaelli 2003.
54. FN17 17. This was the age when eugenics was fashionable, another intellectual current that is ignored.
55. FN18 18. Cook 2009.
56. FN19 19. Mirowski 1991.
57. FN20 20. It can also be questioned whether Taussig is the best example of a neoclassical economist, in that in many ways he was classical. For example, he used the labour theory of value in his trade theory. Dorfman’s label of ‘traditionalist’ (Dorfman 1959) would seem a better fit.
58. FN21 21. See Backhouse, Bateman and Medema 2010.
59. FN22 22. Coates 1996.
60. FN23 23. See Raffaelli 2006.
61. FN24 24. Laidler 1999.
62. FN25 25. Backhouse and Bateman 2010.
63. FN26 26. See Weintraub 1998 and 2002.
64. FN27 27. See Mirowski and Weintraub 1994; Ingrao and Israel 1990.
65. FN28 28. Friedman 1953.
66. FN29 29. Koopmans 1957.
67. FN30 30. Lipsey 1963.
68. FN31 31. Akerlof 1970.
69. FN32 32. Arrow 1959.
70. FN33 33. Grossman and Stiglitz 1980.
71. FN34 34. Spence 1973.
72. FN35 35. Stiglitz 2003.
73. FN36 36. I hedge this statement because my perspective may mean that I am not eligible to make such a judgement.
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/content/journals/10.1163/1569206x-12341252
2012-01-01
2015-07-06

Affiliations: 1: Department of Economics, University of Birmingham R.E.Backhouse@bham.ac.uk

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