Defending the History of Economic Thought

Defending the History of Economic Thought

Steven Kates

This book explains the importance of the history of economic thought in the curriculum of economists, whereas most discussions of this kind are devoted only to explaining why such study is of value simply to the individual economist. Steven Kates reaches out past the individual to explain the crucial importance of the history of economic thought in the study of economics itself; without its history at the core of the curriculum, he contends, economics is a lesser subject, less penetrating, less interesting and of much less social value.

Chapter 4: Teaching the history of economic thought

Steven Kates

Subjects: economics and finance, austrian economics, history of economic thought


There would be no particular point in teaching economists the history of economic thought if it did not make them better economists. Which raises the question, what makes someone an economist at all? Is one an economist if one attempts to answer economic questions regardless of qualifications or technique? Is someone an economist if they attempt to answer economic ques- tions no matter what qualifications they might actually have or which analytical techniques they might happen to use? Or is there a body of theory that unifies this diverse group of individuals under the common name of “economist” whether or not they possess any particular technical abilities? And if there is such knowledge required, is some educational institution required to certify that someone has that knowledge if they are to be officially classified as an economist? And if someone is a certified economist, what should someone else, an employer let us say, or perhaps another econo- mist, expect that person to know or to be able to do? Here is my answer. An economist is someone who understands modern textbook economic theory, can apply that theory to answer questions about the economy and has graduated in economics from some tertiary institution where their stock in trade is the theory they have learned. If they know only technique, then they are not economists in any interesting sense of the word. An economist is someone who knows economic theory and in the modern world has a university degree that establishes the possession of such knowledge.

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