Economics and humankind

Sitting in my colleague Terry Peach‘s office, I picked up Alfred Marshall’s Economics of Industry. I knew the phrase ‘the ordinary business of life’ of course, not least because Roger Backhouse used it as the title of his book on the history of economic thought. What I’d never realised was just how good the whole intro of Marshall’s book is:

“Political economy, or economics, is a study of man’s actions in the ordinary business of life; it inquires how he gets his income and how he uses it. It follows the actions of individuals and of nations as they seek, by separate or collective endeavour, to increase the material means of their well-being and to turn their resources to the best account. Thus it is on the one side a study of wealth, and on the other and more important side, a part of the study of man.”

In fact, it was hard to put it down once I’d started. It turns out to be a cracking read. I like the sentiment (making due allowance for the archaic use of ‘man’) and the way it’s expressed. I certainly see economics as part of the study of humankind, sitting alongside other human sciences – not only the social sciences but psychology and relevant parts of biology too.

The Economics of Industry, by Alfred Marshall and Mary Paley Marshall   The Ordinary Business of Life: A History of Economics from the Ancient World to the Twenty-First Century


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