The history of economic

The history of economic thought deals with different thinkers and theories in the field of political economy and economics from the ancient world to the present day. Although British philosopher Adam Smith is cited by many as the father of modern economics, his ideas built upon a considerable body of work from predecessors in the eighteenth century. They in turn were grappling with ideas received from centuries before and attempting to apply them to a modern setting. In this sense, Smith was an interpreter to his day of ages-old information.

Economics was not considered a separate discipline until the nineteenth century. In his works on politics and ethics, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle grappled with the "art" of wealth acquisition and the question of whether property is best left in private or public hands. In medieval times, scholars like Thomas Aquinas argued that it was a moral obligation of businesses to sell goods at a just price. Economic thought evolved from feudalism in the Middle Ages to mercantilist theory in the renaissance, when the prevailing wisdom advocated that trade policy be structured in order to further the national interest. The modern political economy of Adam Smith appeared during the industrial revolution, when technological advancement, global exploration, and material opulence that had previously been unimaginable was becoming a reality. Changes in economic thought have always accompanied changes in the economy, just as changes in economic thought can propel change in economic policy.

Following Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, classical economists such as David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill examined the ways the landed, capitalist and labouring classes produced and distributed national riches. In London, Karl Marx castigated the capitalist system he saw around him which he thought was exploitative and alienating, before neo-classical economics in a new era sought to erect a positive, mathematical and scientifically grounded field above normative politics. After the wars of the early twentieth century, John Maynard Keynes led a reaction against governmental abstention from economic affairs, advocating interventionist fiscal policy to stimulate economic demand, growth and prosperity. But with a world divided between the capitalist first world, the communist second world, and the poor of the third world, the post-war consensus broke down. Men like Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek warned of The Road to Serfdom and socialism, focusing their theory on what could be achieved through better monetary policy and deregulation. As Keynesian policies seemed to falter in the 70's there emerged the so called New Classical school, with prominent theorists such as Robert Lucas and Edward Prescott. Their revival of laissez-faire ideas caught the imagination of some western leaders. However, the policies of governments through the 1980s have been challenged, and development economists like Amartya Sen and information economists like Joseph Stiglitz have brought new ideas to economic thought in the twenty first century.


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