Lionel Robbins pp 163-169 | Cite as


  • D. P. O’Brien


In assessing Robbins’s place in the history of economic thought it may be helpful to start by dividing leading economists into two broad categories: synthesisers, and those who start with a clean sheet of paper. In the first category may be placed writers like Alfred Marshall and Harry Johnson, and pre-eminent in the second category would be Ricardo and Keynes. Robbins is undoubtedly in the first category. But whereas Marshall and Harry Johnson tried to build new theory, developing the tools they inherited, Robbins was mainly concerned (despite his early phase of making ingenious use of the elasticity tool) with applying the old tools to solve existing problems without developing those tools further. The tools which he used were not always particularly old historically, but they had been developed by other writers and were not Robbins’s own. He was perfectly clear about this, as he wrote in his Autobiography:

I have no outstanding intellectual discoveries to my credit … My purpose in writing is not to suggest the importance of anything I have done, but rather to interpret the experiences I have had.1


General Equilibrium Economic Thought Quantitative Work Great Teacher British Economic 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    (1971a) p. 11.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    (1932a) pp. 78–83.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See especially (1934a) p. 10. See also O’Brien (1983) pp. 32, 36–7.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For a striking example of this see Little (1974).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Johnson (1972) p. 835.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Meade (1984) p. 5.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Robbins (1970b) p. 231.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Baumol (1988).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Robbins (1970b) p. 163.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. P. O’Brien 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. P. O’Brien
    • 1
  1. 1.University of DurhamUK

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