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Boulding’s Place in Economic History

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Kenneth Boulding

Part of the book series: Great Thinkers in Economics Series ((GTE))

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Abstract

Kenneth Boulding was a renaissance intellectual with varied interests, as presented in this book. Borrowing Robert Heilbroner’s phrase, Boulding was a worldly philosopher, but also a moral philosopher. Boulding did not work within one school of economic thought. He was always a disciple of Keynes, but he also branched out into institutional economics, behavioral economics, ecological economics, Post Keynesian economics, and others. Boulding was critical of neoclassical economics early in his career. For example, he admonished neoclassical economists for adopting a positivist approach to economic analysis and ignoring the normative elements of economic issues. Today, ethics in economics is a hotly debated issue, and there is still significant resistance to recognizing that economic inquiries are not value-free. As early as the 1930s, Boulding (1932; 1934) dismissed neoclassical economics’ theories of utility maximization, profit maximization, and marginal productivity. Boulding saw himself as a modern political philosopher who was primarily concerned with the well-being of people (humanomics). Boulding’s methods went against the grain of mainstream/neoclassical economics, and arguably still do today. In part, because of Boulding’s nonconformity and concern for social issues, much of his work had originality and emotion. But stepping back and looking at Boulding’s entire research output reveals two areas where he was especially prescient and original: First, his work on peace and conflict resolution; and second, his metaphorical Spaceship Earth as an argument for sustainability and controlling rampant consumption and economic growth.

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© 2015 Robert Scott

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Scott, R. (2015). Boulding’s Place in Economic History. In: Kenneth Boulding. Great Thinkers in Economics Series. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137034380_7

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