Lionel Charles Robbins was a peculiar Englishman in the economics world of the 1920s for a verysimple reason: he was not a but rather afollower of and .However odd, what really made him downwright unique in Britain was that he hadactually read the Continental European economists - , , , and . As a result of his --- infections, Lord Robbins was instrumental in shifting the train of English economicsoff its rails and onto Continental ones.
Lionel Robbins in a 1932 essay: Economics is "the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses." Scarcity means that available resources are insufficient to satisfy all wants and needs. Absent scarcity and alternative uses of available resources, there is no economic problem.
Corry, "Robbins, Lionel Charles (1898–1984)", In: John Eatwell, Murray Milgate, Peter Newman, dir., "The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics", London: Palgrave Macmillan
W., commentaire du livre de Lionel Robbins, An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society 97 (2):343-44
The of the1930s rolled in on the back of the - ordinal utility function, where the "numberof utils" is not clearly a number at all, much less one that can beascertained and manipulated by an external observer. This was taken up as adirect assault on the old English tradition that had been kept alive by Arthur C. and the . Leading he assault was Lionel (1932: Ch.6). He dismissed cardinal utility outright and argued that the Pigovian defense of "equal capacities for satisfaction" wasnot based on any"scientific" fact. Robbins (1932, 1938) went on to argue that,consequently, social welfare should not be a subject of economic study atall. As utility is not comparable across individuals, then the choice of socialoptimum is necessarily a normative concern, a value judgment and thusit is not within the scope of economic "science". Economics "isincapable of deciding as between the desirability of different ends. It isfundamentally distinct from Ethics." (,1932: p.152). The Paretian ,which rest comfortably on ordinal utility, was deemed the only acceptablecriterion.
Robbins's early essays were very combative in spirit, stressing the subjectivist theoryof value beyond what Anglo-Saxon economics had been used to. Robbins's famous work on costs(1930, 1934) helped bring of supply toEngland (which was opposed to "real cost"theory of supply). His critique of the Marshallian theory of the representative firm(1928), and his critique of the Welfare Economics (1932,1938), helped put an end to the empire-- aided and abetted (and occasionally thwarted) every step of the way by his kindredspirit across the pond, Frank .
It was his 1932 whereRobbins made his Continental credentials clear. Redefining the scope of economics to be"the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between scarce meanswhich have alternative uses" (Robbins, 1932). His defense of theoryand attack on Marshallian intuitionism is reminiscent of essay.
(The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics 2007) In 1932, Robbins wrote one of his most famous books titled, An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science, one of the best-written prose pieces in economics.
Catlin, commentaire du livre de Lionel Robbins, An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science, Political Science Quarterly, 48, (3):463-65
The Robbins argument troubled some contemporaries. Roy posed the question as to whether Robbins'argument would allow any policy recommendations at all. As long as somebodysuffers from a policy measure, Harrod argued, the Pareto-improvement criteria (everyonebetter off, nobody made worse off) does not apply and thus, by Robbins's argument,economists are not in a position to judge such a measure. There are very few,if any instances, where a policy proposal is clearly Pareto-improving. Harrod proposed an interesting exercise to Robbins: how would one defendpolicy measures long advocated by economists, such as the repeal of the Corn Laws or freetrade? "If the incomparability of utility to different individuals is strictlypressed, not only are the prescriptions of the welfare school ruled out, but allprescriptions whatever. The economist as an advisor is completely stultified" (, 1938). Years later, Lionel Robbinsreplied by retreating into pure philosophy: