Education and the Growth of Knowledge

  • Lord Robbins


In the two preceding lectures I have been concerned with the history of thought regarding variations in population and accumulation in relation to economic development. I have said nothing concerning variations in the quality of populations or the stock of knowledge at their disposal. Yet clearly these are influences of great significance in the causation of economic development. Material investment without the skill to utilise it is apt to be unprofitable; and the incentive to invest depends much on the march of technical knowledge. It is therefore a matter of considerable interest to determine how such factors have figured in the speculations of the past. Accordingly they will be the subject of the present lecture. I shall deal first with the history of thought regarding the quality of the population, which will involve mainly thought concerning education in this connection. Then I shall proceed to discuss a little the evolution of ideas about the importance of knowledge in the process of economic development and the systematic advancement thereof.


Economic Development Classical Tradition Economic Thought Present Lecture Material Investment 
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    Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees, ed. Kaye (1924) vol. i, pp. 287–8.Google Scholar
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    J. R. McCulloch, Principles of Political Economy, New ed. (1843) pp. 117–18.Google Scholar
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    Smith, The Wealth of Nations, vol. ii, pp. 267–8.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 270. ‘It has sometimes been suggested that the attitude here expressed to the more general effects of the division of labour involves a contradiction’ with what Smith has said earlier on the benefits thereof. This seems to me to be a complete mare’s nest. There is no contradiction between the view that repetitive work may involve increased ‘ dexterity’ in that job at the same time as it leads to a narrowness of outlook and, unless offset by other interests, a general numbing of intelligence. This is well argued by Dr Nathan Rosenberg in an excellent article: ‘Adam Smith on the Division of Labour: Two Views or One?’, Economica, n.s., vol. xxxii, no. 126 (May 1965).Google Scholar
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    Nassau W. [sic]Senior, Industrial Efficiency and Social Economy, ed. S. Leon Levy (1928) vol. i, p. 195. It should be noted in fairness to Cannan that this was not available at the time of publication of his Review. The McCulloch article, however, although anonymous, was available in the Goldsmith’s Library, in McCulloch’s own collection of his contributions to the Edinburgh Review.Google Scholar

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© Lord Robbins 1968

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  • Lord Robbins

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