Yesterday I quoted the 1827 UCL prospectus definition of economics, with its emphasis on “accurate observation and precise language,” and capsule definition of ‘the science of political economy’ as, “the production, distribution and consumption of wealth, or the outward things obtained by labour, and needed or desired by man.”
I was mulling over the difference between this and Lionel Robbins’ famous 1932 definition of economics (in [amazon_link id=”B002ZZ0U8A” target=”_blank” ]An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science[/amazon_link]): “The science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.” The greater abstraction compared with the ‘political economy’ of a century earlier is all too apparent.
In his 1948 Newmarch Lectures, [amazon_link id=”1107673860″ target=”_blank” ]The Role of Measurement in Economics[/amazon_link], Richard Stone added this gloss to the Robbins definition:
“While many situations in actual life have an economic aspect, few if any can be analysed wholly in economic terms. Taken literally, however, it would bring the applied economist practically to a full stop since he cannot in general estimate the importance of economic factors unless he is prepared to make assumptions about…certain non-economic factors, such as changes in tastes. In fact he can frequently do this for himself in a rough and ready way, although undoubtedly it would be a gain if he could fall back on other branches of the social sciences for help in such matters. The moral of Robbins’ definition is that in applied work much more integration of the social sciences is needed.”