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An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science Paperback – 2007

4 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 156 pages
  • Publisher: Ludwig von Mises Institute (2007)
  • ASIN: B000XG8SV4
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.9 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,903,259 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By D. W. MacKenzie on April 7, 2008
Format: Paperback
One cannot underestimate the influence of The Nature and Significance of Economic Science. Prior to Robbins, economics was thought of as the science that studies wealth. Robbins recast economics as the science that studies the allocation of scarce means among competing ends. This became the standard textbook definition of economics. Robbins also drew a sharp distinction between the efficiency issues of positive economics and the ethical issues of normative economics. Once again, this distinction is common in modern textbooks, and has been for decades. This distinction is a break from the three-way division of political economy into the value free positive science, the value laden normative part, and the third part: the art of political economy. Robbins paved the way for the "academic imperialism" of modern economics. Since economics is about ends and means, not just wealth, any instance where people choose is fair game for economists. Consequently, we now have the economic analysis of religion, the family and marriage, crime, sports... Gary Becker should have cited Robbins heavily.

The Nature and Significance of Economic Science was also central in the discussion and propagation of the opportunity cost concept. Ricardo hinted at this concept. Menger more or less stated it. Weiser developed it thoroughly. Mises understood its full significance. But Robbins made opportunity cost the mainstream concept of economic costs (well, Davenport and Knight helped too...). Once again, the contents of Robbins' essay found their way into modern textbooks.

Robbins also stressed that value free economics must be free of interpersonal comparisons of welfare. That is, we cannot measure consumer satisfaction across individuals.
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Format: Paperback
This is one strange book, a book about the study of economics. Robbins does a wonderful job of breaking down the strengths and weaknesses of economic modeling and I actually enjoyed the clarity and purpose the of book. It's a great book to read before you really dive into studying the art and science of economics.
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Format: Paperback
The type of theory developed in this book is of basic importance for all students of social processes. The postulates of rational economics essentially stake out a claim to adequacy for a complete analysis of human behavior in terms of choice between uses of means in realizing ends, the laws of which are to be worked out in the form of a kind of theoretical mechanics with the notion of equilibrium as the fundamental concept. Robbins's work, a transplanting onto English soil of the Austrian or "neo-Austrian" economics, is an improvement, in many respects, on the traditional British-Classical doctrine, even taking the latter as already profoundly modified by subjective-value influences. But, only with qualifications can the book under notice be indorsed as a satisfactory treatment of its topic, for in spite of much insistence, of a rather too-much-protesting sort, on "precision," and on being "scientific," many of the positions taken fall considerably short of being thought out to definiteness and accuracy.

In defining economics (of his particular brand-see below), Robbins makes an excellent start, taking his cue from a phrase of Cannan, "the fundamental conditions of wealth for isolated man and for society." ("Wealth," to Cannan, meant "economic well-being," not marketable goods.) This starting-point leads to a characterization, first, of economic behavior from the standpoint of the individual. It is defined as behavior involving the employment of limited means having competing alternatives of use (p. 13). Secondly, what the economist actually talks about is "chiefly...the complications of exchange economy.
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