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Joan Robinson Inside and Outside the Stream

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Joan Robinson and Modern Economic Theory

Abstract

In the 1930s there were three great waves in economics: the Keynesian revolution, the imperfect (monopolistic) competition revolution, and the ‘fruitful clarification of the analysis of economic reality resulting from the mathematical and econometric handling of the subject’ (Samuelson, 1977, p. 890). Joan Robinson was a creative participant (as a member of Keynes’s Circus) and a generalizer of the first wave and one of the two independent (and complementary) architects of the second. Her position in the third is ambivalent. While she was innocent of modern mathematical techniques and showed some hostility towards their use in economics, her own theoretical writings (especially her major pre-war (1933) and post-war (1956, 1966) books) are very formalistic and abstract. She casts her argument in what may be called the axiomatic method, even though she is tinged with the ‘Marshallian incubus’ in execution.

I have always aimed to make my own prejudices sufficiently obvious to allow a reader, while studying the arguments, to discount them as he thinks fit, though, of course, this generally leads a reader of opposite prejudices to reject the argument in advance. (Joan Robinson, 1960, 1975, p.iv)

How can what an Englishman believes be heresy? It is a contradiction in terms. (G. B. Shaw, St Joan, Scene iv)

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© 1989 George R. Feiwel

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Feiwel, G.R. (1989). Joan Robinson Inside and Outside the Stream. In: Feiwel, G.R. (eds) Joan Robinson and Modern Economic Theory. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-08633-7_1

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