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The Work of Joan Robinson

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Many economists stick to one area of study throughout their career. Joan Robinson instead studied and wrote on a great number of topics. For example, at the beginning of her career Joan Robinson focused upon building on neoclassical theory. A famous book of hers, written in 1933, introduced the theory of imperfect competition. This theory is still taught in first-year economics textbooks. Despite this success Joan Robinson was quick to move on to a new topic and switched her focus to Keynes’ General Theory. She then turned to Karl Marx. Joan Robinson was one of the first writers to take Marx seriously as an economist. Her 1942 paper on Marxian Economics was considered ground-breaking.

During the Second World War Joan Robinson worked for several committees for the wartime Labour government. In this position she visited both the Soviet Union and China. Joan Robinson was also very interested in underdeveloped and developing countries. She made great contributions in this area of economics. However, Joan Robinson also praised the Chinese Cultural Revolution so much that many of her friends and colleagues were quite embarrassed due to the negative aspects of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

In 1956 Joan Robinson published her magnum opus "The Accumulation of Capital". Despite the fact that it is now more than 50 years old many people agree that students will learn more about finance, money and credit from this book than from any other textbook. Near the end of her life Joan Robinson concentrated both on more methodological problems in economics and in trying to recover the original message of Keynes’ General Theory. Between 1962 and 1980 she wrote many books to try and bring several economic theories to the general public. Joan Robinson is quoted as saying "the purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists."

Joan Robinson never won a Nobel Prize in Economics. Some people believe that this was due to her gender; a female has never won a Nobel Prize in Economics. Other people believe that she never won this coveted prize due to her eclectic study of economics. However, despite the fact that she didn’t win this important prize, Joan Robinson’s works are still being studied while many Nobel Prize winners’ works have faded away.


Leon Walras

Born: 1834. Died: 1910.

Walras was the son of French economist Auguste Walras. Walras enrolled in the Paris School of Mines, but grew tired of engineering. He also tried careers as a bank manager, journalist, romantic novelist and a clerk at a railway company before turning to economics. Walras received an appointment as the professor of political economy at the University of Lausanne. Walras inherited his father's interest in social reform. Much like the Fabians, Walras called for the nationalization of land, believing that land's value would always increase and that rents from that land would be sufficient to support the nation without taxes.

Another of Walras’ influences was Augustin Cournot, a former schoolmate of his father. Through Cournot, Walras came under the influence of French Rationalism and was introduced to the use of mathematics in economics.

General equilibrium theory

In 1874 and 1877 Walras published Elements of Pure Economics, a work that led him to be considered the father of the general equilibrium theory. The problem that Walras set out to solve was one presented by Cournot, that even though it could be demonstrated that prices would equate supply and demand to clear individual markets, it was unclear that an equilibrium existed for all markets simultaneously.

Walras constructed his basic theory of general equilibrium by beginning with simple equations and then increasing the complexity in the next equations.


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