Chapter 3: Economics and the Economist
3. Economics and the economist The master-economist must possess a rare combination of gifts. He must reach a high standard in several different directions and must combine talents not often found together. He must be mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher – in some degree. He must understand symbols and speak in words. He must comprehend the particular in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought. He must study the present in light of the past for the purposes of the future. No part of man’s nature or his institutions must lie entirely outside his regard. He must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood; as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, yet sometimes as near the earth as a politician. John Maynard Keynes (1924, pp. 173–4) When Keynes penned these words in his obituary of Alfred Marshall (1842–1924), regarded by many as the doyen of the economics profession of his time, Keynes may have been outlining the type of economist he himself aspired to be. Some were left wondering if anyone was capable of attaining such distinction. More importantly, Keynes’s description provides some insight into what he understood economics to be: a discipline with scientific characteristics, but which depended for its efficacy on the cultivation of particular intellectual and moral habits and certain practical skills. For one whose thought was to reshape radically the direction of economics, Keynes wrote relatively little on the nature and method of economics. Most of Keynes’s...
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