The glories of Irish economics


Yesterday I mentioned the underrated Irish Enlightenment (don’t forget Toland!), today I will briefly lay out how many top early economists came from Ireland.  Here is a partial list of those economists and their contributions:

1. Richard Cantillon, 1680s-1734.  Perhaps the second greatest economist of his century after Adam Smith, he developed the ideas of entrepreneurship and opportunity cost and in general embraced common sense.  Jevons called his Essay on the Nature of Commerce in General the “cradle of political economy.”  He was a major influence on Smith.

2. Edmund Burke, 1729-1797.  Burke has been underrated as an economist, see the recent book by Greg Collins on Burke’s economic thought.  Here is a short essay on Burke’s conservative case for markets.

3. Robert Torrens, 1780-1864.  A major thinker on international trade, he developed the theory of comparative advantage before Ricardo did, and was a sophisticated analyst on a broad range of questions, including terms of trade and currency policy.  He also promoted a version of the charter city idea for southern Australia, and to this day some things in Adelaide bear his name.

4. Richard Whately, 1787-1863.  Mostly an archbishop, theologian, and philosopher, his writings on economics developed the notion of “catallactics,” namely economics as the science of exchange.

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3. Mountifort Longfield, 1802-1884.  A first-rate common sense economist, and arguably the first writer to clearly state the laws of supply and demand.  He also developed a marginal productivity theory for the value of labor and capital.  The first professor of political economy at Trinity College.

5. John Elliott Cairnes, 1823-1875.  An important thinker on the methodology of the social sciences, an all-around excellent economist, and his diagnosis of the economics and sociology of slavery (it ruined and infected all parts of Southern society) was spot on.  He is sometimes considered “the last of the classical economists.”

6. Isaac Butt, 1813-1879.  Best-known for his role in Irish political history and the Home Rule movement, he produced what is arguably the first coherent account of the marginal product theory of distribution and factor prices.  He also analyzed the Irish system in terms of the economics of misallocated land, and he promoted welfare state ideas.

7. Francis Ysidro Edgeworth, 1845-1926.  One of the founders and leading lights of mathematical economics, he produced an early version of the Coase Theorem, the notion that market price converges on a competitive equilibrium as the number of buyers and sellers grows, explained the importance of tangency conditions for economic equilibrium, developed the economics of progressive taxation, fleshed out the economics of monopoly pricing, and he initiated the use of offer curves for international trade theory.

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And please, none of your b.s. about Anglo-Irish, Norman, Spanish, etc. — they were Irish!  I think of these individuals as continuing the earlier Irish Enlightenment of the eighteenth century.



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