Knowledge, Truth and the History of Economic Thought
Edited by Stephan Boehm, Christian Gehrke, Heinz D. Kurz and Richard Sturn
Chapter 9: Apparent progress due to forgetfulness or reinterpretation
Erich W. Streissler OVERVIEW Is there such a thing as progress in economics? As with most good questions in economics, the answer is, of course, both ÔyesÕ and ÔnoÕ. Economics is the science in which commonly both A and non-A are true: at different points in time, under different circumstances, or even simultaneously in the behaviour of different economic agents. There has been little which is new in macroeconomics since the early heyday of our science in the eighteenth century. Even there, though, there has been much that is new as far as methods are concerned, the analysis of empirical data and measurement. We moderns are confronted with a great wealth, if not a surfeit, of data. And yet Ð even here there might be exceptions: Gregory King, for example, may perhaps have provided his late seventeenth-century, not-yet-British, compatriots with more exact figures on the income distribution of their countrymen than we in Austria have at present as regards nonwage incomes. Fritz Neumark propounded the idea that economic thought tends to be cyclical. There is much to be said for this idea. With a time-lag of about a quarter-century, one generation after the other rediscovers what had been well known to its forbears, though not infrequently under another name and, alas, not infrequently written in another language. There are well-documented waves of appreciation and deprecation of Adam Smith with a mean periodicity of about a century. What may be even more important is that basic economic circumstances tend to recur, to...
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