Joan Violet Robinson Biography Theory

Joan Robinson Biography, The Economics of Joan Violet Robinson

Even before the outbreak of the Second World War, Joan Robinson had already made such contributions to economic theory that guaranteed her a place in the history of economic thought. Her book on imperfect competition and her work, in close association with Keynes, on the theory of employment and output, were at the forefront of economic thinking in these 'years of high theory' (Shackle, 1967). Her work since then has covered most aspects of economic theory culminating in her books on the analysis of growth and in her attack on the neoclassical theory of capital and interest in the 1950s and 1960s. It is impossible, in a brief paper, properly to survey Joan Robinson's work. This is not only because of its volume (her essays are collected in 1951,1964, 1965, 1973) and variety but also because of its contrast to the dominant and familiar modes of thought in economics. As John Eatwell (1977) observes, despite the fact that

Joan Robinson is acknowledged to be one of today's foremost economic theorists with an impressive list of path-breaking contributions to her name . . . many economists, even those who regard themselves as 'theorists', approach her writings with apprehension and confess to bewilderment. Her books and articles are often outstanding examples of English prose, and the ideas are novel and exciting, but they do not fit within the framework used by most economists to define their subject.


What I propose to do here is to concentrate on a few central aspects of Joan Robinson's work attempting to present them in as simple a manner as possible. If, as a result of this, Joan Robinson's writings are made accessible to a somewhat wider audience, this chapter will have served its purpose.

My presentation will be under the two broad headings of the Theory of Value and the Theory of Accumulation. This division of economic theory is suggested by Joan Robinson herself in the preface of her probably most important book (1956). Nevertheless, some of her central ideas are of such wide import, affecting nearly the whole of economic theory, that they cannot neatly be fitted even within these broad categories and this is occasionally reflected in my discussion.