Eco 368

History of Economic Thought

Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9:00-10:00am, UTC 3.122
Professor Harry Cleaver
Office: BRB 3.162
Office Hours: Th:8:00-10:00am, W:10:00-12:00noon

TA name and office hours TBA

Course Description

This course deals with the history of economic thought in modern times, i.e., since the rise of capitalism as a social, and increasingly global, system. It is a central tenet of my approach to studying and teaching this history, that the ideas themselves be grasped as a part of the history within which they were formulated and spread. Ideas stand neither above nor outside of history but within it, as moments of strategic thinking and of the ideological justification of strategies for organizing the world. The history of economic ideas, therefore, can only properly be grasped as part of the history of the economy itself, with all its moments of organization and conflict. "Economics" is the study of the economy, i.e., the capitalist organization of the production and distribution of wealth. But it has also been part of the effort to promulgate and justify that economy and the subordination of all of society to it. As you will discover, as capitalism has developed and transformed more and more of social life into moments of itself, economics has simultaneously provided an "economic understanding" of those moments to replace previous ones.

Indeed, the contemporary definition of economics as the "science of choice" clearly seeks to embrace an extremely wide array of human social activities --many of which, like the internal personal relations of families, were hitherto considered outside the economy. But, of course, this is not just a matter of intellectual imperilism, of economists seeking to impose their logic on new realms of the human. It is an intellectul moment that reflects, justifies and seeks to order the actual incorporation of families into the reproduction of the economy (capitalism) itself.

For economists are preeminently architects of the economy. They do not simply seek to understand it or to justify it. They seek to maintain, strengthen and expand it. They develop abstract theories but those theories inform (often quite intentionally) the management of the economy and of all the social life it encompasses.

Therefore, I argue, how you feel about economic theories, about economists and their work, depends on how you feel about the economy (capitalism) of which they are the caretakers and propagators. If you are in fundamental agreement with their view that this is the best kind of social order that can be achieved, then your primary interest in studying the history of economic thought will be in analysing the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches to managing it within various contexts. If on the other hand, you have severe critiques of this kind of social order and think humans ought to be able to transcend it, then your interest in the various moments of economic thought may be primarily in seeing how economists have contributed to thwarting such transcendence in the past, as an aid to understanding how they are doing so in the present.

Study Materials

The majority of readings for this course are available to you on-line. When I first created this course, I spent a goodly chunk of the summer searching the web (and other e-text sources) to gather useful material and create links to it here in the on-line list of readings. The online material is also linked in the "lecture notes" I am creating for each section and you will be expected to read all the material so linked unless you have been told otherwise. This process of gathering material, however, has continued ever since, and I may add further to the existing array of materials as we proceed. If in your studies you find what you consider to be important materials that are not currently available please bring them to my attention. A major online source for information on economists and their original texts is the History of Economic Thought website. Many of the links provided for this class are to that site or to others found through it. In as much as this is a one-semester survey course, there is far more informaton available than we will cover and such sites can provide you with valuable tools for further explorations on your own.

One hardcopy text that has been ordered for this course is Robert Heilbronner's The Worldly Philosophers. This book provides an easy to read overview of the history of economic thought up to the post WWII period. It is an interpretive essay, however, and no substitute for reading original texts by the various authors. Moreover, given the time it was written it does not cover more recent decades and therefore must be followed up with more contemporary material.

Because this semester this course is a writing component course I have also ordered copies of the latest edition of William Strunk and E.B. White's famous little book Elements of Style. This book's preoccupation is with writing simply and clearly, in the vernacular, i.e., in everyday, easy to understand prose. The original 1918 version of the book is no longer copyrighted and is available on-line. Master these basic elements of clear writing and you will have firm foundation for developing more specific personal styles of writing.

Suggested Study Method

As a means of studying the materials listed above, I recommend that you keep a notebook during the entirety of the course consisting of the following:

1) Your own notes summarizing the arguments of the various authors and relating them to the times in which they lived and wrote as well as to each other.

2) Class notes on my lectures and class discussions, and finally, most importantly,

3) Your own comments on the authors, critiques of my comments and your own interpretations - and possible appropriations - of the subject matter.

The notebook could be designed as follows: a spiral or loose-leaf notebook with notes spread across two opposing pages. The left page divided in two with the left column for notes on the various authors and the right column for class lecture notes, the right page for your own commentaries. I strongly recommend that you keep your reading and note taking ahead of class lectures. If you have read, studied and taken notes on material before it is covered in class, then when you listen to the lectures, you will be in a much better position to understand and evaluate what is being said, to ask questions or to offer your own interpretations. If you get behind in this class, you are in real trouble! The notebook can provide you with a unified, compact instrument for studying and thinking about the materials. It would also be your best preparation for tests.


This is an upper division economics course and you will find it easier if you have already taken at least the two introductory courses in macro and micro. In as much as we will be studying the development of economic thought within history, you will also be better off if you are familiar with the history of the UK (esp. England, Scotland and Ireland), of France and of the United States from the mid-18th through the 20th Centuries. If you are not familiar then you will have a little extra work acquiring enough familiarity to situate the texts you will be reading.


Largely because of the thought I have been putting into the course I teach on the Political Economy of Education, I have become more and more convinced that studying course material without appropriating it in some way is a royal waste of time. Therefore in ALL of my classes I am now asking that you seriously think about what you can appropriate, i.e., integrate into your life trajectory, either as part of your intellectual development or in terms of your decisions about how you behave in the world. Concretely, what I want you to do is to write two essays, one at the beginning of the course and one at the end. In the former case I want you to think about the path that led you to this course and how you might make use of it. In the latter case, I want you to explain what you have appropriated and how, as well as what you have NOT appropriated and why. These two essays will constitute a substantial part of your grade (see below), so you would do well to take them seriously. In my other classes I have discovered that many students, never having done anything like this before, find this assignment quite difficult. To clarify what I am asking for I have written an essay on "Learning, Understanding and Appropriating" - that you can find among the other supplementary materials on this website - that includes some examples, including my own.

This year this course is a writing component one. That means you will write a series of things, not just to help yourself understand and appropriate the material but to work on your writing skills. It also means that you will get feedback, mainly from me, aimed at pointing out problems with your writing and sometimes making suggestions about how to improve it.

As you write, get feedback and study your writing, I want you to take note of mistakes you make frequently and that you therefore need to check for in your writing before posting it or handing it in. Later in the semester, when you hand in the draft of your final essay, I will expect you to attach a copy of this list of things you have found necessary to work on during the semester. One simple example: "Go which hunting" - an admonition based on having realized that you often use "which" where you should use "that". The practical consequence of this awareness is that you can run a search for "which" in your word processing program and then examine each one to make sure it is properly used, or, conversely needs to be changed to a "that."

Writing assignments:

All of the writings assignments described below should be constructed using a word processor and should be spell and grammar checked before either handing in or posting, as the case may be. In the case of essays, pages must be numbered. In the case of posting, given the peculiarities of Blackboard, you need to use dumb as opposed to smart quotes and use n-dashes instead of m-dashes to keep the text clean.

Course Organization

Because this is a writing component course and enrollment is limited, I prefer to conduct this course primarily as a seminar, that is to say a course more of discussion than lecture. We will discuss this in class but I propose the following way of proceeding. With the class meeting three times a week, on Monday I lead discussion, explaining to you how I assess the readings of the week, what I think is most important and what I have appropriated from them. On Wednesday the class breaks into smaller groups of 5-6 to discuss your own readings of the material. And then on Friday, we have general in-class discussion of the readings with everyone, myself included, participating. If you have finished reading the assigned material by Wednesday, discussions on Wednesday and Friday should provide you with extra material for whatever responses you might post by Friday. And then you will have the weekend to read and react to each other's postings, while beginning to read the material assigned for the following week.

The course calendar currently lists the subject matter to be covered each day when the course is taught as a lecture course. Actual weekly reading assignments for this semester will be posted on the Blackboard "assignments" page.

NB: Students with disabilities may request appropriate academic accomodations from the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, Services for Students with Disabilities, 471-6259.

Available readings.