Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Passing Thoughts

I've not been posting for a while, largely due to business travel. But over the past week, two important icons in economics have died, and I would like to comment on both.

First, Jane Jacobs passed away on April 25.

While I came to her work rather late (only in the past dozen years), I was impressed by it. My interest in her works on cities was, I'm sure, spurred by a seminar class I took as an undergraduate on the "City in History." I was struck then by the role of cities in economic development and the role of economic forces in history. Jacobs' work resonated with me because of this, particularly her work Cities and the Wealth of Nations. While some critics felt that her calls for planning sounded a statist note, she also understood that poorly planned urban centers can decline under their own weight if they fail to allow for growth and development.

But, perhaps more interesting for me was The Nature of Economies. Written as a discussion between friends, it contained a statement that helped me form a philosophy about economic education. One of the characters in the book stated "I'm convinced that economic life is ruled by processes and principles we didn't invent and can't transcend, whether we like that or not, and that the more we learn of these processes and the better we respect them, the better our economies will get along." I thank her for that.

Second, John Kenneth Galbraith passed away on April 29.

My sole contact with Galbraith was in reading his recent biography by Richard Parker. I came to appreciate Galbraith as a popularizer of economics. His book The Affluent Society did much to explain his view of the economy in the late 1950s in a language that many could understand. Unfortunately, it may be because his view was so rigid and some would say political, that his work as an economist is not appreciated. Had he been more profound and little less opinionated in his views, it is possible that he would have gained more recognition within the profession of economics. Nevertheless, his impact was significant and he is recognized for that. One of the quotes in Parker’s biography perhaps summarizes Galbraith’s lifelong view. "Ideas are inherently conservative. They yield not to the attack of other ideas, but to the massive onslaught of circumstances with which they cannot contend…like the Old Guard, the conventional wisdom [a phrase coined by Galbraith] dies, but does not surrender."

All of the books mentioned here are available through most book outlets.

Your response is encouraged.

Posted by TSchilling at 4:16 PM Comments (0)

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