Lionel Charles Robbins, Baron Robbins (1898 - 1984) was a British economist. He proposed one of the early contemporary definitions of economics,
- "Economics is a science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses."
Robbins was instrumental in shifting Anglo-Saxon economics from its Marshallian direction. A follower of William Stanley Jevons and Philip Wicksteed, he had also read the Continental European economists: Léon Walras, Vilfredo Pareto, Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, Friedrich Hayek, Friedrich von Wieser and Knut Wicksell.
He succeeded Allyn Young in the chair of the London School of Economics in 1929. Among his first appointments was Friedrich A. Hayek, who bred a new generation of English-speaking "continentals" such as John Hicks, Nicholas Kaldor, Abba Lerner and Tibor Scitovsky.
Robbins's early essays were very combative in spirit, stressing the subjectivist theory of value beyond what Anglo-Saxon economics had been used to. He wrote a famous 1932 essay on economic methodology. His work on costs (1930, 1934) helped bring Wieser's "alternative cost" theorem of supply to England (which was opposed to Marshall's "real cost" theory of supply). His critique of the Marshallian theory of the representative firm (1928), and his critique of the Pigovian Welfare Economics (1932, 1938), helped put an end to the Marshallian empire -- aided and abetted (and occasionally thwarted) every step of the way by his kindred spirit across the pond, Frank Knight.
It was in his 1932 Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science that Robbins made his Continental credentials clear. Redefining the scope of economics to be "the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses" (Robbins, 1932). His defense of a priori theory and attack on Marshallian intuitionism is reminiscent of von Mises's essay.
Robbins was initially opposed to Keynes's General Theory. His 1934 treatise on the Great Depression is an exemplary Neoclassical analysis of that period. Indeed, Robbins always saw his L.S.E. as a bulwark against Cambridge, whether it was populated by Marshallians or Keynesians. However, he was eventually to recant and accept the Keynesian Revolution.
In the latter part of his life, Robbins turned to the history of economic thought, publishing various classic studies on English doctrinal history. Robbins' L.S.E. lectures, as he gave them in 1980 (more than fifty years after he first taught the subject upon his appointment in 1929), have been published posthumously (see 1998).
Although the ascendancy of the L.S.E. is foremost among his legacies, Robbins is also greatly responsible for the modern British university system - having advocated in the Robbins Report its massive expansion in the 1960s.
In 1959 he has been created a life peer as Baron Robbins, of Clare Market in the City of Westminster.
Major works of Lionel Robbins
- "Dynamics of Capitalism", 1926, Economica.
- "The Optimum Theory of Population", 1927, in Gregory and Dalton, editors, London Essays in Economics.
- "The Representative Firm", 1928, EJ.
- "On a Certain Ambiguity in the Conception of Stationary Equilibrium", 1930, EJ.
- Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science, 1932.
- "Remarks on the Relationship between Economics and Psychology", 1934, Manchester School.
- "Remarks on Some Aspects of the Theory of Costs", 1934, EJ.
- The Great Depression, 1934.
- "The Place of Jevons in the History of Economic Thought", 1936, Manchester School.
- "Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility: A Comment", 1938, EJ.
- The Theory of Economic Policy in English Classical Political Economy, 1952.
- Robert Torrens and the Evolution of Classical Economics, 1958.
- Politics and Economics, 1963.
- The University in the Modern World, 1966.
- The Theory of Economic Development in the History of Economic Thought, 1968.
- Jacob Viner: A tribute, 1970.
- The Evolution of Modern Economic Theory, 1970.
- Autobiography of an Economist, 1971.
- Political Economy, Past and Present, 1976.
- Against Inflation, 1979.
- Higher Education Revisited, 1980.
- "Economics and Political Economy", 1981, AER.
- A History of Economic Thought: the LSE Lectures, edited by Warren J. Samuels and Steven G. Medema, 1998.
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