The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

O’Brien, George (1892–1973)

  • J. Meenan
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-349-95189-5_1505

Abstract

O’Brien was born and died in Dublin. He turned to Political Economy when ill-health obliged him to retire from the Irish Bar. From 1926 to 1961 he was Professor of National Economics, then of Political Economy, at University College, Dublin.

O’Brien was born and died in Dublin. He turned to Political Economy when ill-health obliged him to retire from the Irish Bar. From 1926 to 1961 he was Professor of National Economics, then of Political Economy, at University College, Dublin.

Throughout his professorship he was at pains to follow developments in economic theory: typically, he lectured fully on the General Theory within months of its publication. In general economics his approach was derived from Mill and Marshall. He held that political economy, law and philosophy shared a common root and that no one of them should be separated from the other two. This approach informed his lectures and writing, which displayed a clarity and precision derived from his legal training.

He obtained his chair when the new Irish State was fashioning its economic policies. By membership of a series of Commissions and by articles in informed journals he clarified for the public the issues involved. His insistence on the importance of priorities became less acceptable, but he always wielded influence through his students (many of whom rose to high office), the Statistical Society (President, 1942–6) and the Economic and Social Research Institute (Chairman, 1961–73).

The essay on medieval economic teaching traced the development of the concept of interest from the Ethics of Aristotle to the Schoolmen. His notes on profit insisted on its residual quality and its function as the reward of risk-bearing.

He encouraged the young Geoffrey Crowther to write his Outline of Money (1940, Preface), and he communicated the discovery of the lost Ricardo–Mill letters (Economica, November 1943).

Selected Works

  • 1918. The economic history of Ireland in the eighteenth century. Dublin: Maunsel.

  • 1919. The economic history of Ireland in the seventeenth century. Dublin: Maunsel.

  • 1920. Essay on medieval economic teaching. London: Longmans.

  • 1921. The economic history of Ireland from the union to the famine. London: Longmans.

  • 1923. Essay on the economic effects of the reformation. London: Burns, Oates and Washbourne.

  • 1929. Agricultural economics. London: Longmans.

  • 1929. Notes on the theory of profit. Dublin: Hodges Figgis.

  • 1942. Economic relativity. Dublin: Statistical & Social Inquiry Society of Ireland.

  • 1948. The phantom of plenty: Reflections on economic progress. Dublin: Clonmore and Reynolds.

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Meenan
    • 1
  1. 1.