History of Economic Thought/Printable version

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History of Economic Thought

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The history of economic thought is a fascinating journey that spans centuries, weaving through the intellectual landscapes of different cultures and eras. At its core, economic thought explores the ways societies allocate resources to meet their needs and desires. Our journey begins in ancient times when philosophers like Aristotle contemplated economic principles. Aristotle, in his work "Politics," delved into the concept of oikonomia, focusing on household management and the exchange of goods.

Fast forward to the 18th century, and we encounter the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, notably Adam Smith. In his seminal work, "The Wealth of Nations," Smith laid the groundwork for classical economics. He introduced the invisible hand concept, arguing that individuals pursuing their self-interest unintentionally contribute to the overall well-being of society through the market mechanism.

The 19th century witnessed the rise of various economic theories. Karl Marx, a German philosopher and economist, developed the theory of communism, critiquing capitalism for its inherent class struggles. Concurrently, neoclassical economists like Alfred Marshall emerged, emphasizing the role of supply and demand in determining prices and resource allocation.

The Great Depression of the 1930s spurred the development of Keynesian economics, named after John Maynard Keynes. Keynes advocated for government intervention to manage economic downturns, challenging the laissez-faire approach. His ideas gained prominence, influencing policies during the post-World War II era.

The latter half of the 20th century witnessed the rise of monetarism, led by economists like Milton Friedman. Monetarists argued for controlling inflation through the manipulation of the money supply, challenging Keynesian orthodoxy. This period also saw the emergence of behavioral economics, incorporating insights from psychology to understand economic decision-making.

As we step into the 21st century, new economic paradigms continue to emerge. Development economics focuses on addressing global inequalities, environmental economics grapples with sustainability, and behavioral finance explores the psychological factors influencing financial decisions. The digital age has given rise to discussions about the gig economy, automation, and the impact of technology on traditional economic structures. The evolution of economic thought continued to unfold in the 20th century with the advent of new theories and perspectives. The aftermath of World War II saw the establishment of the Bretton Woods system, named after the conference that took place in 1944. This system set the stage for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, institutions designed to stabilize and reconstruct the global economy.

During this period, the neoclassical synthesis emerged, integrating Keynesian ideas with neoclassical economics. Economists like Paul Samuelson played a pivotal role in reconciling the seemingly disparate views, emphasizing the importance of both market forces and government intervention in maintaining economic stability.

As the 20th century progressed, the focus shifted towards development economics. Scholars like Rostow and Prebisch explored the dynamics of economic growth in developing countries, highlighting the role of industrialization and the challenges posed by unequal global trade.

The 1970s marked a turning point with the rise of supply-side economics. Influenced by thinkers like Arthur Laffer, this perspective argued for reducing tax rates to stimulate economic growth. Concurrently, the oil crisis and stagflation challenged existing economic paradigms, leading to a reevaluation of policy approaches.

The latter part of the 20th century also witnessed the emergence of environmental economics as a distinct field. Concerns about resource depletion, pollution, and climate change prompted economists to incorporate environmental considerations into economic analyses. This led to discussions about sustainable development and the need for balancing economic growth with environmental preservation.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 marked the end of the Cold War and a shift in economic ideologies. The triumph of market-oriented reforms and the spread of globalization became defining features of the late 20th century. Institutions like the World Trade Organization (WTO) gained prominence, advocating for free trade and economic liberalization.

Entering the 21st century, the global financial crisis of 2008 prompted a reassessment of economic models. Questions about the stability of financial markets and the role of regulatory frameworks gained renewed attention. Economists like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman contributed to discussions about the implications of the crisis and the need for reform.

In recent years, the digital revolution has introduced new dynamics into economic discussions. The gig economy, characterized by temporary and flexible employment, challenges traditional labor market models. Issues of income inequality, technological unemployment, and the impact of artificial intelligence on work are subjects of ongoing debate within the field of economics.


References[edit | edit source]

  1. Keynes, John Maynard (2018), "The Postulates of the Classical Economics", The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 5–20, ISBN 978-3-319-70343-5, retrieved 2024-01-24



Introduction[edit | edit source]

Oriental economic thoughts are lying scattered in Vedas, Upanishads, Smritis, Epics (Ramayana and Mahabharata), Shukraniti, and Boudha and Jain scriptures. The subject matter of Political Economy is found in Mahabharata Shanti-parva, Manu-smriti, Yajnayawalkya-smriti, Shukra-niti, and Kautiliya Arthashastra.
The use of word Arthashastra (a parallel word to Economics) is very old in Sanskrit literature. Atharva-Veda tells that Arthashastra is a branch of Rig-Veda. The time of Atharva-Veda has been estimated by scholars about 3000 BC. Bokare, MG.2009. Hindu economics, Pune: MG Bokare Memorial Memorial Foundation.

The Legend of Paitamha Tantra[edit | edit source]

The first known book on Oriental Economics was Paitamaha Tantra. This is stated in Mahabharata and Shukra-niti (1.1-3) clearly. According to the legend, in the beginning there was stateless society and all people perform their duties fairly. Slowly population increased and people became greedy. They forgot their proper duties and then started the rule of might is right. To protect the society from anarchism and disorder the Grandsire- the creator composed of a voluminous book with 100 thousands verses, known as Paitamaha Tantra. For common people this book was abridged by Lord Shiva of large eyes, the Divine Indra, the most intelligent sage Brihaspati and the great celebrity Shukra respectively. This tradition is supported by Kautilya by saying that he owes for his views to two of the great teachers- Brihaspati and Shukra.[1]
The subject matter of Grandsire's book was divided into five broad divisions [2]-

  • 1. Vedas
  • 2. Anvikshiki- Philosophy
  • 3. Varta-Economics
  • 4. Danda-niti- Power Policies
  • 5. Vaidyak-shastra- Medical Science

Contents[edit | edit source]

These five genres were adjusted in such a way that the following subject matters were discusset in that book- Political Science- Qualifications of the King and Minister of War

  • - Qualification of ministers, ambassadors, crown prince, and spies
  • - Seven organs of state
  • Army science- Eight organs of army
  • Economics- Acquisition and utilization of wealth
  • -Economic activities
  • -Earnings of workers and employe
  • - Revenues of state
  • Sociology-Human settlement in rural and urban areas
  • -Association with scholars
  • -Laws of dress
  • -Laws of meals
  • -Duties of a ruler and common people
  • Law and order- Public security, Palace security
  • Legal system- Procedure of rule regulation
  • Civics- Rules of the progress of society
  • Mythology- Traditions
  • - Religious ceremonies
  • Medical science- Diagnosis of 72 diseases

Kautiliya Arthashastra and its Historical Context[edit | edit source]

The most influential of all ancient books on Political Economy is Kautiliya Arthashastra. It is one of the great books of political and economic thoughts,...on each reader it leaves its mark…[3]The first great political realist: Kautilya and his arthashastra, New York: Lexington Books. 1) This treatise is an exposition on statecraft, economic policy and military strategy which identifies its author by the name Vishnugupta Chanakya, who is traditionally identifies with Kautilya or Kautalya (about 400-300 BC), a renowned Professor of Arthashastra at Taxila University.
Legend has it that Kautilya or Chanakya, a Brahmin by birth was insulted by a Nanda king, cursed that king threaten to destroy him and he miraculously escaped disguised as an ascetic. Afterwards he swore that he would destroy the Nanda kings and the Greek foreign invaders from Aryavarta-the whole region of Aryans. For this he took the support of Chandragupta Maurya (the grandfather of more famous king Ashoka). Chandragupta is said to be related with Shakyas clan near Lumbini.[4] Just after Alexander's death in circa 323 BC Chandragupta Maurya and Kautilya began their conquest by stopping the Greek invaders. [5]

Date and Authorship[edit | edit source]

Trautmann and IW Mabbette agree that Arthashastra is a composition from no earlier than the second century CE but based on earlier materials. KC Ojha puts forward the view that the traditional identification of Visnugupta with Kautilya was caused by a confusion of editor and originator and suggests that Visnugupta is in fact an analyst detractor of the original work of Kautilya. Thomas Burrow goes even further and says that Chanakya and Kautilya are actually two different people. According to Jolly the work is a piece of forgery of about the third CE. But Shamashastry, Kangle, Sharma, Jayaswal, Gairola have presented many evidences from Arthashastra, Kamandaki-nitisar, and Boudha and Jain Scriptutre which are compatible only with the fourth century BC. [6] [7] [8]

Translation[edit | edit source]

Although it is the original work of 4th century BC (and this tradition was followed by Kamandak and his followers including Chandeswar of 14th century) but it became popular only after Shamashastry, who discovered it from a Brahmin of Mysore. He transcribed, edited and published Sanskrit work in 1909 and he started its English translation which was published in 1915 with the support of King Boudiyar of Mysore. MM T Ganapatashstri provided laudable service by translating the original text into Sanskrit in 1924-25. Kalyanev translated it into Russian language in 1959 and Vachaspati Gairola translated it in Hindi in 1962-63. Kangle edited the Sanskrit text, translated in English and wrote the commentary during 1960-65 in three volumes. Nepalese translation was presented by Royal Nepal Academy in 1967. The editor and translator of the book are SN Sharma and KR Aryal respectively. An important version of this treatise has been presented by LN Rangrajan who had rearranged, edited and explained it in 1992 with necessary diagrams and commentaries. A new Nepalese translation has been recently published by Vidyarthi Prakashan. The translator of this book is TP Luitel. It is a shadow translation of Gairola’s book. Some other books are also found in the name of Kautiliya. The most popular among them is Chanakya-niti. The others are Chanakya-sutras and Arthashastra.

Four Branches[edit | edit source]

According to Kautilya knowledge has four branches as follows-

  • 1. Anvikshiki (Philosophy)
  • 2. Trayee (Triple Vedas)
  • 3. Varta (National Economy)
  • 4. Danda-niti (Power Policies)

1. Anvikshiki (Philosophy)[edit | edit source]

Kautilya defines Anvikshiki (philosophy) in the following words- Philosophy is the light of knowledge, easy means to accomplish all kinds of acts and receptacle of all kinds of virtues. The definition clears that this subject provides the methods and tools as well as conclusion for an investigation. Therefore Anvikshiki was a combination of logic and philosophy. Anvikshiki comprises of three philosophies- Sankhya, Yoga, and Lokayata (Atheism).

2. The Triple Vedas[edit | edit source]

In Sanskrit literature the meaning of trayee is knowledge in three Vedas. Vedas are the most ancient written document of human civilization available at present. In the beginning this knowledge was transferred from one generation to another on oral tradition (or by hearing) therefore these are also known as Shruti. The present knowledge owes from the past civilization therefore we must always have a link between present knowledge to that of the past knowledge of our ancestors. These three are as follows-

  • a. Rig-Veda- The collection of hymns to be recited is known as Rig-veda.
  • b. Yajur-Veda- The collection of mantras for offerings (to God) is known as Yajur-Veda.
  • c. Sama-Veda- The collection of musical mantras to be sung is Sam-Veda.
  • Kautilya goes on saying- Atharva-Veda and Itihasveda are also Vedas. Phonetics, Ritual, Grammar, Etymology, Prosody and Astronomy are auxiliary sciences and therefore subordinate part of Vedas. (Kautiliya Arthashastra, 2003, 1.3.1-3)

3. Varta (Economics)[edit | edit source]

Varta-National Economy comprises of Krisi, Goraksha, and Banijya that is agriculture, animal farming and commerce. Thus it was a three sector economy the having the major source of income in agriculture. Varta was very important for a state because it used to receive grain, cattle, money, and various kinds of products and labour. (Kautiliya Arthashastra, 2003, 1.3.1-3)

4. Danda-niti or Power Policies[edit | edit source]

The literal meaning of danda is rod stands for the scepter used by the king. The other meanings of danda are- army, staff, one of the policies. There are four policies of dispute settlement, that is, Sam, Dam, Danda and Bheda. Two of the methods- Sam and Dam are known as soft actions and other two methods- danda and bheda are known as hard actions of the state. Thus danda-niti is related with power policies. According to Mahabharata its mythical original is Paitamaha-tantra, handed down by the Grandsire- Brahma, at the time of matsya-nyaya. [9]
Where it means punishment it has to be understood as just punishment. For a king meeting out unjust punishment is hated by the people. He terrorizes while one who is too lenient is held contempt; whoever imposes just and deserved punishment is respected and honoured. [10]

Content in Brief[11][edit | edit source]

Kautiliya Arthashastra is divided into 15 Departments known as Adhikarana are follows- Department One deals with the equipment of the king for the performance of his duties as a ruler. It discusses such topics as the training of the king, the appointment of ministers and other officers of the state, the daily routine to be normally followed by the ruler and so on. The numbers of chapters in this department is 21.
Department Two principally describes the duties of the various executive officers of the state. It gives a fairly fly picture of state activity in various fields. It also includes a discussion on such questions as settlement on unoccupied land building a fort lying and the capital and so on. The numbers of chapters in this department is 36. Department Three which is concerned with law and its administration, reproduces a complete code of law. The numbers of chapters in this department is 20. Department Four is concerned with suppression of crime. It shows how to trace and punish thieves, murderers, dacoits, and other criminals. The numbers of chapters in this department is 13.
Department Five is rather miscellaneous in character. It dwells on measures that may be necessary in emergencies, describes the steps to be taken against seditious persons and lays down scales of salaries for the different categories of state servants. It also explains how a candidate for a high office in the state should endeavour to secure and retain it. Finally it gives advice to the chief minister on ensuring continuity of rule on the demise of the ruling monarch. The numbers of chapters in this department is 6.
Department Six which is very short and enumerates the qualities which make each of the seven prakritis, or constituents of the state ideal, also describes the circle of kings as a preliminary to a discussion on the state's relations with its neighbours. The numbers of chapters in this department is 2.
Department Seven contains and exhaustive discussion on the way in which each of the six measures of foreign policy may be used in the various situations that are likely to arise. The ultimate goal set before the ruler's consequent of the world. Consequently we have description of the various ways in which rivals may be outwitted by trick of overcome by force. The numbers of chapters in this department is 18.
Department Eight is concerned with calamities, i.e., shortcomings or weaknesses affecting the various prakriti. It is necessary to overcome the vyasanas before any aggressive activity, can be undertaken. The numbers of chapters in this department is 5. Department Nine deals with preparations for war and describes the kind of troops that should be mobilized for an expedition the proper seasons for starting on an expedition, the precautions to be take and the dangers to be guarded against before starting and so on. The numbers of chapters in this department is 7.
Department Ten is concerned with fighting and describes the campaign of the army its march, various modes of fighting, types of battle, army and other topics. The numbers of chapters in this department is 6.
Department Eleven which contains a single chapter, explains how the vijigisu or an ambitious ruler should overpower the independent oligarchical principalities. This department has only one chapter.
Department Twelve shows how a weak king, when threatened by a stronger king, should frustrate the latter's designs and ultimately overcome him. The numbers of chapters in this department is 6.
Department Thirteen is mainly concerned with the conquest of the enemy's fortified capital by subterfuge or by fighting. It also describes how the conquered territories should be ruled by the ambitious king. The numbers of chapters in this department is 5. Department Fourteen describes various secret remedies and occult practices useful for getting rid of enemies or traitors. The numbers of chapters in this department is 4.
Department Fifteen, having single chapter, is devoted to the methodological issues of the subject. It defines and illustrates from the text itself the thirty-two methods of treating a subject.
From the view point of modern economics following discussions of this treatise are relevant[12]-

  • 1. Definition and methodology of Economics
  • 2. Nature and objectives of material prosperity
  • 3. Sectors of economy and their development
  • 4. Government revenue and expenditure
  • 5. Principles of taxation
  • 6. Welfare economics

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

In spite of this fact that there was a voluminous treatise containing the subject matter of economics in the past, the book is not available at present. The abridged versions of that book- Vaishalaksa Shastra, Bahudantak Shastra, and Barhaspatya Shastra are also not available. Perhaps these four masterpieces have been lost. The only abridged version that is found in this tradition is Shukra-niti. The other book, Kautiliya Arthashastra which was written in about 400 BC is available. Many theoretical and practical foundations of modern econmics are found in this book. Although the principles and practice propounded in these treatises are universal and applicable in modern set up also.

References[edit | edit source]

Pre-classical: Before Adam

Mercantilism[edit | edit source]

It promotes government regulation of a nation's economy for the purpose of augmenting state power at the expense of rival national powers. Mercantilism includes a national economic policy aimed at accumulating monetary reserves through a positive balance of trade, especially of finished goods. Historically, such policies frequently led to war and also motivated colonial expansion .

Cameralism[edit | edit source]

The British Enlightenment[edit | edit source]

Physiocrats[edit | edit source]

Adam Smith

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Adam Smith was a Scottish economist, philosopher, and author. He was a moral philosopher, a pioneer of political economy, and was a key figure during the Scottish Enlightenment era.

Historical Context[edit | edit source]

Adam Smith's Life[edit | edit source]

Adam Smith as a Philosopher[edit | edit source]

Before Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, he was famous with The Theory of Moral Sentiments. The Theory of Moral Sentiments was in the Enlightenment tradition.

How can a selfish person make moral judgments satisfying other people? Each person stands at his own system. Smith asked himself why, if people are only self-interested, each town does not resemble the vicious state of nature, "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." (phase of Thomas Hobbes)

Smith made an answer. When people make moral choices, he said, they think an impartial spectator. Instead of simply being selfish, they take the impartial observer’s advice. In this way, people decide on the basis of sympathy, not selfishness.

Smith's Thoguht on Ethics and Jurisprudence[edit | edit source]

The Wealth of Nations[edit | edit source]

In 1776, The Wealth of Nations was published.

Smith on Labour and Capital[edit | edit source]

Values and Prices[edit | edit source]

Money and Banking[edit | edit source]

Free Market and The Invisible Hand[edit | edit source]

Smith on Taxation[edit | edit source]

Adam Smith as an Economist[edit | edit source]

Legacy and Influence[edit | edit source]

Reference and further reading[edit | edit source]

Say, Malthus and Ricardo

Jean Baptist Say[edit | edit source]

Thomas Malthus[edit | edit source]

David Ricardo[edit | edit source]

Alfred Marshall

Alfred Marshall, FBA (26 July 1842 – 13 July 1924) was one of the most influential economists of his time. His book, Principles of Economics (1890), was the dominant economic textbook in England for many years. It brings the ideas of supply and demand, marginal utility, and costs of production into a coherent whole. He is known as one of the founders of neoclassical economics. Although Marshall took economics to a more mathematically rigorous level, he did not want mathematics to overshadow economics and thus make economics irrelevant to the layman.

Life[edit | edit source]

Marshall was born in London. His father was a bank cashier and devout Evangelical. Marshall grew up in Clapham and was educated at the Merchant Taylors' School and St John's College, Cambridge, where he demonstrated an aptitude in mathematics, achieving the rank of Second Wrangler in the 1865 Cambridge Mathematical Tripos. Marshall experienced a mental crisis that led him to abandon physics and switch to philosophy. He began with metaphysics, specifically "the philosophical foundation of knowledge, especially in relation to theology.". Metaphysics led Marshall to ethics, specifically a Sidgwickian version of utilitarianism; ethics, in turn, led him to economics, because economics played an essential role in providing the preconditions for the improvement of the working class.

He saw that the duty of economics was to improve material conditions, but such improvement would occur, Marshall believed, only in connection with social and political forces. His interest in Georgism, liberalism, socialism, trade unions, women's education, poverty and progress reflect the influence of his early social philosophy on his later activities and writings.

Marshall was elected in 1865 to a fellowship at St John's College at Cambridge, and became lecturer in the moral sciences in 1868. In 1885 he became professor of political economy at Cambridge, where he remained until his retirement in 1908. Over the years he interacted with many British thinkers including Henry Sidgwick, W.K. Clifford, Benjamin Jowett, William Stanley Jevons, Francis Ysidro Edgeworth, John Neville Keynes and John Maynard Keynes. Marshall founded the Cambridge School which paid special attention to increasing returns, the theory of the firm, and welfare economics; after his retirement leaderships passed to Arthur Cecil Pigou and John Maynard Keynes.

Utility theory[edit | edit source]

The measurability of utility[edit | edit source]

Operational measurement of utility[edit | edit source]

The Bernoulli hypothesis[edit | edit source]

Gambling and insurance[edit | edit source]

The Bernoulli hypothesis and progressive taxation[edit | edit source]

Derivation of demand curves[edit | edit source]

The constancy of the marginal utility of money[edit | edit source]

Indifference-curve[edit | edit source]

Revealed preference[edit | edit source]

Marshallian demand curves[edit | edit source]

Subjective theory of value[edit | edit source]

Welfare economics[edit | edit source]

Consumer's surplus[edit | edit source]

Four consumer's surpluses[edit | edit source]

Tax-bounty analysis[edit | edit source]

Cost and supply[edit | edit source]

The short run[edit | edit source]

Quasi-rents[edit | edit source]

The long run[edit | edit source]

External economies[edit | edit source]

Producers' surplus[edit | edit source]

Asymmetrical welfare effect[edit | edit source]

Representative firm[edit | edit source]

Monopolistic competition[edit | edit source]

  1. Gewali, BR.2012.Economics in Upanishad, INJA Mission 2(2), Butwal: Innovative Journalists Association.
  2. Mahabharata, 2003, SP, Chapter 59
  3. Boesche, Roger.2000
  4. Gewali, BR.2012.Economics of Kautilya, Shukra and Brihaspati, Rupandehi, Manigram: Gyanjyoti Prakashan. (Pathshalamasik.economicsofkautilyashukraandbrihaspati)
  5. (Boesche, Roger.2000.The first great political realist: Kautilya and his arthashastra, New York: Lexington Books. 1
  6. Jayaswal, KP.1978.Hindu polity, Bangalore: The Bangalore Printing and Publishing Company Ltd.
  7. Jha, LK.2006.Arthashastra and its modern relevance in Economics in Arthashastra editors RL Basu and SK Sen, New Delhi : Deep and Deep Publication.
  8. Kautiliya Arthashastra-III. 2003. Commentaries by RP Kangle, New Delhi: Motilal Benarasi Das.
  9. (Rangrajan, LN, Re-arranger, editor and translator.1992.Kautilya- The Arthashastra, New Delhi: Penguin Classics. 14)
  10. Kautiliya Arthashastra, 1.4.7-10
  11. Gewali, Babu Ram, 2011, Mirmire, Economic Articles Issue, 40(3), vol.310,2011, Kathmandu : Nepal Rastra Bank
  12. Gewali, BR.2013.Oriental Economics- Revisited, Rupandehi, Manigram : Gyanjyoti Publicatioon ISBN 978-9937-7363