Friday, August 31, 2012

Great ideas, and a response to a comment by your favorite blogger and mine

Gene Callahan has a list of the great ideas of social science here, and he solicits other ideas.

I might add:

Division of labor and its social ramifications (Smith, Durkheim, Marx)

Externalities and the impact of property rights on social organization (Pigou, ? somebody had to have said this before him)

Law of one price (Cassel, Keynes, again there have to be other earlier examples)

Double consciousness (DuBois)

Non-neutrality of money (Keynes, Hayek, there have to be earlier examples)

Social construction of reality (Berger, Luckmann)

I was also intrigued by this comment by Greg Ransom:

"The most important idea – on a par with Darwin’s directly parallel idea – is the identification of an explanatory PROBLEM in the design-like order of the rough, undersigned & non-dictated coordination of individual plans in the great market society, and the solution to this problem in the bottom-up mechanism of learning in the context of changing relative prices, negative rules of just conduct, and individual judgments of local conditions.

Until this ideas was together in one piece by F. A. Hayek economics, like biology before Darwin, was just a miscellany of components — afterwards everything makes sense"

That's funny. I would have thought that's the primary reason why Adam Smith is considered a sort of father of economic science, even though he certainly wasn't the first to write on the subject. And much as I like Hayek, Smith beat him to it by over one hundred and fifty years. Indeed, Darwin found inspiration in a lot of the classical economists. Just an important thing to keep in mind.


  1. Speaking of people reaching certain points before others you think the argument could be made that Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes were very similar, Daniel Kuehn? As I've told you before, Dr. Michael Emmett Brady has argued that Smith and Keynes came very close when it came to the issue of financial speculation. See the following paper for reference.

    1. Blue Aurora... time to come clean: Are you Dr Michael Emmett Brady?

    2. Believe it or not, I am not Dr. Michael Emmett Brady, but merely a fan of his work. You can ask Daniel Kuehn or Jonathan Finegold Catalan, and they can attest to the fact that I'm not Dr. Michael Emmett Brady.

  2. Rule of law should definitely be on the list.

  3. Thanks to Daniel for sharing that -- good nerdly fun for those of us with too many books.

    An aside:

    I like Smith as much as anyone. I think his stature is merited by a few features of his work: he's quite quotable and pithy like few other authors, he can always illustrate his point with a salient anecdote or thought experiment, and he combines economic theory with first-rate moral philosophy. All of this makes him unusually accessible. It's easy to see why Wealth of Nations was an instant best-seller, while the Quantulumcunque Concerning Money and the Tableau Economique sat on the shelves.

    And Smith was a great synthesizer, as Daniel says. (In this, he was similar to Mill and Marshall). However, I think that Schumpeter's point cannot be denied: there is not a single idea in Smith that is original to him. So the "father of economics" rep seems like the one acclaim that fits dubiously with his actual works.


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