Monday, 29 March 2010

New improved Economists Family Tree [updated]

After much research, gnashing of teeth and drawings of many more lines and boxes, I’ve produced a “new improved” version of the economics family tree I posted last week.  After much work it’s becoming fully comprehensive, yet seductively simple. 

W-01 Economists Family Tree

I think it’s a vast improvement on the last version, which had lost most of the clarity.

You’ll note, among other things, that there are two general streams of thought emerging out of history—one of which, with some exceptions, is largely ignored by the mainstream—and the other of which is largely in praise of big government. 

That the last time there was general agreement was back just after the Marginalist Revolution, around the turn of the last century, out of which ‘progressive’ era all the various fragmented schools of today really emerged.

That many things (both good and bad) began with Knut Wicksell.

That there was economics (both good and bad) before Adam Smith.

You might note too the profound distance between the two Britons Philip Wicksteed over the direction of the Marginalist Revolution—a distance measured both by their separation in the chart and by Wicksteed’s assertion that Marshall and his followers were insufficiently aware of how radical that revolution was, making them little more than “a school of apologists” for the failures of the classical school to construct a valid theory of value.

That there’s really no such thing as a  “neo-liberal” school—a “school” which exists only the minds of Susan St John, Jane Kelsey and their fellow travellers.

That for some decades after the British Classical School codified the study of economics, Karl Marx’s version of their work virtually had the English-speaking world to itself—which explains a lot--but his influence in economics a century later was less so than it was in other fields.

That until recently mainstream economics took very little from the seminal stream of Austrian thought, except what the “Neo-Classicists” took from Hayek and (the partial-Austrian) Schumpeter.

That there is a direct line forward from Carl Menger (“the true and sole founder of Austrian economics proper”)through Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk and Ludwig Von Mises to George Reisman, and from Reisman back to the many valid but now-forgotten ideas of the Classical School—and an indirect line back from John Maynard Keynes back to the the unsound and misbegotten fallacies of Malthus and the mercantilists, and forward to the ‘Neo-Classical Synthesis’ that institutionalised those errors. . .

So it’s getting there.  Mind you, it’s still not perfect. I haven’t included all the economists who feature on the various ’ten most influential economists’ lists of all-time, or even of the twentieth-century. And I’m now under heavy pressure from Will Wilkinson and a couple of others to add the New Institutional School . . . even though I have got Ronald Coase in there.  At the moment.

Rest assured that I’ll be speaking to a historian of economic thought on Wednesday—as you do—to get some more perspective, and to get firmly upbraided for my errors.


  1. Keep in mind that the Austrians and the (micro) neoclassical school really didn't break away from each other until the 1930s. To a large degree it was the Socialist Calculation Debate that resulted in the break up. Lord Robbins was neoclassical but it was he who got Hayek to the LSE and he was on the Austrian side in the Calculation Debate. Modern micro economics doesn't have the schools that macro does. Most micro types will use the same basic theory such as game theory, contract theory, law and economics etc.

  2. There does seem to be much more collegiality between economists in the period 1900-1930, although aside from Hayek (largely through his arrival at the LSE) very few English-speakers were even aware of much of the Austrian school. Certainly books like Mises's 'Theory of Money & Credit' were hardly known in the English-speaking world, and when they were noted it was only by reviewers who noted years later that they couldn't actually understand original ideas when they were written in German (a chocolate fish to anyone who knows who that reviewer was).

    But you're right about micro. It became apparent as I was doing this that the warring schools are, as you say, mainly macro.

  3. Keynes. Was it Keynes? Had to be him. Surely?


  4. Yes. It was. Chocolate fish for that man.


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