I will be teaching Modern History of Economic Thought again starting tomorrow (Econ 821 in the GMU catalogue of classes for PhD students). This term I am going to try to emphasize the evolution of economic thought through the 20th century not in terms of abstract theoretical and methodological disputes, but instead as the by-product of the play between ideas and public policy. In doing so, I hope to contextualize the intellectual history of modern economics. To get an idea of what I am talking about consider this statement from the beginning of Lionel Robbins's The Theory of Economic Policy in English Classical Political Economy (1952):
"When I began to study economics, thirty years ago, the senior generation of economists in this country -- Marshall, Edgeworth, Foxwell and Cannan -- were all men who, in their different ways, were truly learned in what may be called the scholarship of the subject; and some acquaintance with the history of economic thought was usually deemed to be a desirable part of the equipment of the economist. But, in the years that have passed since then, this kind of knowledge has come to be regarded as a very unimportant embellishment, as inessential to the economist as a knowledge of the history of chemistry is said to be inessential to the chemist. This development has always seemed to be to be unfortunate. I do not think that, even in the purely analytical field, our knowledge is so far advanced to justify us in writing off as superseded the propositions of all but our immediate contemporaries; and, in the applied field, I do not think we can hope to understand the problems and policies of our own day if we do not know the problems and policies out of which they grew. I suspect that damage has been done, not merely to historical and speculative culture, but also to our practical insight, by this indifference to our intellectual past -- this provincialism in time -- which has become so characteristic of our particular branch of social studies."
But what is Robbins argument for a more scholarly as opposed to scientistic understanding of economics? What is the "Kuhnian loss" that he identifies when he states "I suspect that damage has been done"? It cannot just be his preference for old books. And, it cannot just rely on catchphrases in the public discourse such as "Those who ignore the pass are condemned to repeat it." What actually is the argument underlying the plea for scholarship in the training of economists that will meet the argumentative burden set by the intellectual status quo in economics?