Lionel Charles Robbins Economics Model

Lionel Charles Robbins Economics, Lionel Robbins Definition

Lionel Robbins was born in 1898. He served in the First World War and, perhaps as a result of that experience, developed, like so many others of his generation, a desire to change society. He enrolled as a student at LSE, specialising in political ideas and having Harold Laski as his tutor. He learned his economics from Edwin Cannan and Hugh Dalton. He then worked as Beveridge's research assistant for a year, spent some time as a fellow and lecturer at New College, Oxford, and then returned in 1929 to take the chair of economics at LSE. He held that chair until 1961 when his formal retirement began. It is necessary to underline the word 'formal' because even in the academic year 1979/80 he continues to lecture.

Lionel Robbins is an economist of many paradoxes. His great work on methodology, for example, has usually been interpreted as apriorist and anti-empirical, yet he has always been concerned with the problems of the real world. On philosophy and policy he has associated himself with the school of thought which is strongly anti-socialist and anti-interventionist, but has not hesi­tated to be closely involved with governments in almost every possible way. He has made some extremely important contri­butions to mainstream economic theory, but does not discuss most of these in his autobiography. Finally, an extraordinarily large number of the major figures in the profession were on his staff or were his pupils, but he has founded no school of thought and published no 'principles of economies'. In this last connection it must be noted that while he was no econometrist or mathematician, he was the head of the department which fostered the career of Bill Phillips with all the consequences that has had for LSE as a world centre for econometric theory.

In this essay I shall limit myself to four issues; (a) the nature of economic science, (b) the classical view of economic policy, (c) the supply of effort problem, and (d) the control of inflation. Before doing that, however, there is one additional general remark to be made. Lionel Robbins's writings have been extremely fruitful as statements of problems or problem areas. Whether he has been right or wrong (and he has never been tardy in admitting error) he has concentrated on key issues, and arguments with him have invariably been fruitful. His attack on interpersonal comparisons of utility led to all sorts of new developments in welfare economics. His alleged a priorism stimulated the programme of obtaining qualitative predictions based on qualitative restrictions on the underlying functions. His querying of the rationality of a socialist state clarified that topic and again gave rise to in­numerable advances in welfare economics.