In the Introduction to Human Action, Mises says economics is the youngest of the sciences, and he characterizes its birth as, "The discovery of a regularity in the sequence and interdependence of market phenomena."
Given what we've read in aAPotHoET, approximately when do people here think this discovery was made? In terms of economics as a "young science" Mises obviously means economics as a systematically, rigorously approached subject. Rothbard associated the birth of economics according to that definition with the work of Richard Cantillon (as opposed to the everyman conception of Smith being the father of economics). But he gave the honor of "earliest economic thinker" to the ancient poet Hesiod. This site proclaims Salamanca, Spain as being the birthplace of economic theory. The School of Salamanca did have predecessors in medieval economic scholarship, however. And of course, the scholastics did not produce a book entirely focused on economics as Cantillon did; their economic thought, though surprisingly deep, was scattered across more general works.
What do you all think?
I just recently finished Volume 1 of this. It was brilliant.full of wit,humour,detail and powerful commentary. I'd love to see other books in this style.Rothbard really brought history alive while not being dull and limiting his focus just to the economics of various individuals but scanning over their lives and usually the quirks and eccentricities that made the characters memorable. Throughout the Book I discovered many people who we should consider fellow travellers and also enemies. I was surprised how much adam smith diverged from the laissez faire he's supposedly famous form. There was so much information to take in it made my head spin. Rothbard never took to projects lightly and he was really comprehensive. I was continually surprised about how much/what we knew.Each section was bursting with so much facts that 100 + pages in I thought I was 200 or 300 pages in, I felt I had read so much. The only confession I must make is it's a long book requiring alot of devotion to get through.If your like me it'll take you at least a few days to finish ,trying to absorb as much of his analysis as possible.
What really impressed me was how time and time again it was catholic thinkers who saved the day and steered economics back on the right course. We have a lot to be thankful of that tradition for.
I don't really want to comment or read anything here.I have near zero in common with many of you.I may return periodically when there's something you need to know.
Near Mutualist/Libertarian Socialist.
It took me the first twenty or so days of January to get through the first one hundred pages, and approaching the deadline for the reading I finished the rest of it thereafter (actually, I finished the book today; I had about twenty-one pages to go through). Despite the month which it took me to read, I feel that I didn't get everything out of the book that I could, and I will probably re-read sections of it in the future, as I use it as a reference. Reading the book has inspired me to write a "review", although perhaps not in the same style as your usual book review. Instead, I want to write it on a trend that I've seen throughout the history of economic thought. Admittedly, I have not read the second volume, and I will probably not read the second volume for quite some time—I have five books I want to get through before June 2010—, and so anything I write will probably not be as good as it may would be if I took the time to read the second volume first. This trend is close to a trend that I had seen earlier and had posted on these forums: that, periods of liberalism were always drowned out by periods of tyranny and Statism. But, I no longer believe that this observation holds true.
To be fair, there were a few boring parts, although mostly due to my own biases. For example, my reading was not as objective when it came to covering Calvinist history, as that part of economic history does not really interest me (although, the history of communist communities in Czechoslovakia and Germany was interesting, I must admit). In general, however, I was impressed by the book. One of its most impressive features is Rothbard's sophisticated writing style. Reading Economic Thought Before Adam Smith was not like reading a history or economics book, but like reading a piece of literature. This is not something I can say about his earlier work, including America's Great Depression. Nevertheless, this writing style has persuaded me to read his A History of Money and Banking in the United States, as listed in the link posted above (I am hoping to start it in February, after finishing Prices & Production).
While Rothbard attributes early economic thought to Hesiod, he makes clear that he does not mean this in a modern sense. Much like you say, Rothbard attributes the birth of economic thought in a modern sense to Richard Cantillon. I would be inclined to agree with him, but in his criticism of Adam Smith he makes a concession which I think gives Adam Smith credit for turning economics from merely a marginal area of study, largely mixed with philosophy and politics, to a mainstream area of study. Well, more accurately the credit goes to Dugald Stewart:
In this way, and clinging passionately to the Smithian line, Dugald Stewart, in the first decade of the nineteenth century, profoundly influenced and converted a host of future economists, writers and statesmen. These included James Mill, John Ramsay McCulloch, the earl of Lauderdale, Canon Sydney Smith, Henry Brougham, Francis Horner, Francis Jeffrey and the Viscount Palmerston. Economics was thereby developed as a discipline, Stewart giving rise to text writers, publicists, editors, reviewers and journalists.
It was the influence of Adam Smith, and The Wealth of Nations, on Dugald Stewart which made this possible. In retrospect, it is perhaps unfortunate that it was Adam Smith that did so, as opposed to Richard Cantillon or Anne Turgot, but we are at least fortunate that it took place, at all. All considered, we are fortunate that it was not someone like Karl Marx who influenced the beginnings of the discipline of economics!
As Murray Rothbard clearly argues, Adam Smith did not forge his beliefs in economic theory ex nihilo. He was decisively influenced by the likes of Cantillon and Turgot, especially through the lectures of Francis Hutchenson and David Hume (although he was to discard much of Hume's important coverage on monetary theory). So, while I agree that Cantillon should receive credit for providing the seed which was to sprout into the science of economics, it seems as if it was Adam Smith who provided the nutrients and water—whether Adam Smith led economics down several erroeneous paths is irrelevant in this case, although unfortunate. Regarding the School of Salamanca, I do not believe that they deserve any credit when it comes to modern economic science. Although there is no doubt in their wisdom, and the fact that they corrected many of the fallacies which still circulate today, from the writings of Rothbard it does not seem as if they commanded any influence after the Protestant Reformation in Europe—that is, economic theory lost a century of sound economics, and Salamancan theory was lost until rediscovered by more recent economic historians.