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Edited by J. Barkley Rosser Jr.
Chapter 16: Complexity and the History of Economic Thought
16. Complexity and the history of economic thought* David Colander 16.1 Introduction The history of thought is a set of patterns that we superimpose on the development of ideas and theories from our current perspective. History is much like a magic eye picture: change one’s perspective and one changes what seems important in history. Thus, our account of the history of economics tells us about ourselves and our current views, as well as about what previously transpired. Since all patterns do not fit equally well, the pattern view of history does not mean that anything goes; some histories fit the pattern of events better than others. But, inevitably, fitting the pieces of an historical pattern together into a composite whole requires forceful and fast writing on the part of the author, and some gullibility on the part of the reader. What this means is that there will often be three or four lenses that can reasonably be used to look at the history of economics to convey quite different patterns. That is certainly the case for economics. Most histories of economic thought, mine included (Landreth and Colander, 2002) are written from the perspective of developments in general equilibrium theory being the pinnacle of development. This chapter takes a different tack, thus providing an example of this pattern view of history; it considers the history of economic thought from a different perspective than do most contemporary histories of economic thought. Specifically it highlights the contribution of various economists and schools of...
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