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Legacies of Great Economists

Legacies of Great Economists

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Legacies of Great Economists

Legacies of Great Economists

Course No.  528
Course No.  528
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Course Overview

About This Course

10 lectures  |  44 minutes per lecture

When it comes to economics and economic theory, a few thinkers dominate the landscape. Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Alfred Marshall, John Maynard Keynes, and a handful of others have shaped the world of economics and influenced our lives. These lectures by Professor Timothy Taylor acquaint you with the thoughts, theories, and lives of those great economists, ranging from the predecessors of Adam Smith in the 18th century through 20th century giants like John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman.

Led by Professor Taylor, you grasp the guiding principles of economics through a better understanding of the economists who developed them.

A Firm Foundation of Core Doctrine
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When it comes to economics and economic theory, a few thinkers dominate the landscape. Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Alfred Marshall, John Maynard Keynes, and a handful of others have shaped the world of economics and influenced our lives. These lectures by Professor Timothy Taylor acquaint you with the thoughts, theories, and lives of those great economists, ranging from the predecessors of Adam Smith in the 18th century through 20th century giants like John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman.

Led by Professor Taylor, you grasp the guiding principles of economics through a better understanding of the economists who developed them.

A Firm Foundation of Core Doctrine

In this broad span of time since these thinkers first presented their ideas, economic issues and concerns have changed greatly—but core economic doctrine remains.

Of course, the foundation of that doctrine wasn't as well established or understood in the beginning as it is today.

These lectures provide a fresh take on how various economic theories were formed and how subsequent economists fine-tuned those theories.

They show that there are valuable lessons to be learned from history's great economists, whether their theories have held up over time, required revision, or been discredited in practice.

And as Professor Taylor leads you through those theories, you come away with insight about why some current disputes over economic policy have been continual sources of argument over the last several centuries.

Peer Into the Minds of Geniuses

By providing a glimpse into the minds of the geniuses who laid the foundations of modern economics, Professor Taylor offers new ideas and perspectives to enhance your understanding of the subject.

More than numbers and graphs, this series focuses on personalities and brings economics to life.

As you learn more about how these great economists formed their ideas, you gain a better grasp of the important economic principles that drive and shape our world.

What You Learn

Lecture 1 outlines the worthwhile reasons for studying past economists. Professor Taylor looks at the origins of economics from the Middle Ages up to the 17th century and focuses on the backgrounds, key figures, and impacts of the Mercantilists and the Physiocrats.

In this period prior to 1750, the beginning concepts of economics set the stage for Adam Smith.

Lecture 2 turns to a discussion of Smith and the birth of economics.

By examining Smith's building blocks for The Wealth of Nations, you begin to understand and appreciate the impact of such concepts as:

  • the division of labor
  • trade
  • the "invisible hand."

But Professor Taylor also looks at Smith's shortcomings (although they were few), and you examine his views on various economic issues that are still relevant today.

The lecture concludes with a summary of Smith's extraordinary qualities and his tremendous impact on economic thought.

Meet the " Dismal Science "

Lecture 3 introduces what we know as the "dismal science" and the work of Thomas Robert Malthus and David Ricardo.

Professor Taylor leads you to an understanding of the theories of both men, including

  • Malthus's ideas about overpopulation, which he predicted would lead to famine if not restrained
  • Ricardo's ideas about inflation and the concept of comparative advantage as it related to international trade.

You learn that although these two men often disagreed on major economic issues, they were close friends, sustaining a long and fruitful discussion of economic and intellectual topics.

Lecture 4 deals with John Stuart Mill's extraordinary upbringing and his study of utilitarianism, which laid the foundation for his future thought.

You learn how this last great economist of the Classical School developed concepts we still study today, including:

  • supply and demand
  • economies of scale
  • international trade
  • government intervention.

Professor Taylor also discusses Mill's study of "economic man" before turning to his impact on both economics and economists.

An Evaluation of Marxist Economics

Lecture 5 looks at Karl Marx and the advent of socialism.

Professor Taylor discusses the Industrial Revolution and the utopians and scientific socialists who criticized its social consequences. He then turns to Marx's background, professional work, and thought in several areas, including:

  • the capitalist law of motion relating to the bourgeoisie and the proletariat
  • the labor theory of value
  • the exploitation of workers.

He concludes with an examination of how Marxist economics have stood the test of time, arguing that while Marx was a brilliant thinker whose ideas still resonate to this day, his scientific analysis of the economy has not held up.

Lecture 6 examines Alfred Marshall and marginalist thought.

This lecture begins with a discussion of how the marginalists revolutionized economics by using scientific concepts to better understand the concepts of supply and demand.

You also cover the key area of Marshall's background, and how it affected his economic thinking, before turning to his principles of economics.

You learn that Marshall focused on human behavior and developed a modern economic vocabulary.

Professor Taylor concludes with a look at Marshall's combination of neoclassical economics and social justice.

Lecture 7 examines the debate between the scientific socialists, led by Oskar Lange, and the Austrian school of economics, led by Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek.

Professor Taylor traces the development of both schools of thought and how they responded to each other and ends with a discussion of which side was the winner in this debate, including a surprising look at the important things they had in common.

Learn the Ideas Behind Entrepreneurialism

Lecture 8 introduces Joseph Schumpeter and the concept of entrepreneurialism.

Professor Taylor examines his ideas concerning the entrepreneur and innovation and the impact of entrepreneurship upon the business cycle before turning to Schumpeter's ideas about the viability of capitalism and socialism.

He concludes with a look at Schumpeter's legacy and its relation to both growth economics and socialism.

Lecture 9 is devoted to what Professor Taylor terms "the extremely busy life of John Maynard Keynes."

He begins with a discussion of Keynes's monumental General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.

You learn that Keynes believed in economic progress in the long run and in the need for government to create demand to help the economy, and how Keynes altered economic thinking in several respects, including:

  • the negative aspects of saving
  • the importance of macroeconomic analysis
  • government's responsibility for the economy
  • the philosophy of correctable capitalism.

Lecture 10 completes the course with a discussion of Milton Friedman, his interest in statistics, and the rebirth of classical economics.

Professor Taylor looks at Friedman's work on the permanent income hypothesis and on far-sighted expectations, as well as his study on both monetary matters and history.

He concludes with a discussion of the many examples of Friedman's market-oriented thinking in everyday life, such as an all-volunteer army, flexible exchange rates, and school vouchers.

View Less
10 Lectures
  • 1
    Before Economics—Mercantilists and Physiocrats
    Political figures, businessmen, and philosophers of the 16th and 17th centuries sought to harness economic forces to assure national strength. Their understanding of the issues was generally incomplete, and sometimes wrong-headed, but it formed the foundation for later economic thinking. x
  • 2
    Adam Smith and the Birth of Economics
    Adam Smith saw the free market as an interlocking system in which the selfish behavior of individuals is transformed by an "invisible hand" into social productivity. But Smith was no ideologue; in fact, he saw some limitations of free markets more clearly than many of his current admirers. x
  • 3
    The Dismal Science—Thomas Robert Malthus and David Ricardo
    Robert Malthus is perhaps best known for his prediction that population would outstrip economic growth; David Ricardo for his theory of comparative advantage and trade. These two men, though best friends, completely disagreed on certain economic theories. x
  • 4
    John Stuart Mill and Utilitarianism
    John Stuart Mill summarized and extended much of the economic thinking up to this time, including a nearly-modern theory of supply and demand. Even more important, he argued that while economics may be a necessary guide to the harsh realities of efficient production, society might choose to redistribute the fruits of that production in line with some conception of social justice. x
  • 5
    Karl Marx and Socialism
    Karl Marx gave voice to many fears about capitalism that still persist today: It will result in huge corporations, mass unemployment, inequality and poverty, technology that displaces jobs, swings into depression, and more. Although the flaws in his economic theories have become apparent with time, he set the groundwork for much of economic discussion over nearly a century. x
  • 6
    Alfred Marshall and Marginalist Thought
    The marginalists and Alfred Marshall brought mathematical rigor and clarity to economics. This helped clarify the meaning and strengths of economic theories—along with their limitations. x
  • 7
    The Socialist Calculation Debate
    In the first half of the 20th century, a debate raged between market socialists who argued that the principles of economics could best be implemented through an interventionist government, and Austrian economists who felt that an undisturbed market was a key to efficiency. The debate is echoed in current arguments over intervening in markets. x
  • 8
    Joseph Schumpeter and Entrepreneurialism
    Joseph Schumpeter emphasized the importance of entrepreneurs in a modern economy and offered a theory of business cycles. Unlike Marx, who believed capitalism would collapse because of its failures, Schumpeter believed capitalism would collapse from its successes. x
  • 9
    John Maynard Keynes and the Keynesian Revolution
    John Maynard Keynes offered a systematic description of why the market as a whole might break down into depression. But he also offered a set of policy tools and guidelines for letting the government intervene in the market, but only in dire straits. x
  • 10
    Milton Friedman and the Rebirth of Classical Economics
    Milton Friedman defends markets fiercely. In both microeconomic and macroeconomic arenas, he explained why, even when omniscient and instantaneous government intervention might theoretically help the economy, in the real world markets can have both practical and ethical advantages. x

Lecture Titles

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Timothy Taylor
M.Econ. Timothy Taylor
Macalester College

Professor Timothy Taylor is Managing Editor of the prominent Journal of Economic Perspectives, published by the American Economic Association. He earned his Master's degree in Economics from Stanford University.

Professor Taylor has won student-voted teaching awards for his Introductory Economics classes at Stanford University. At the University of Minnesota, he was named a Distinguished Lecturer by the Department of Economics and voted Teacher of the Year by the Master's degree students at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

In 2007, Professor Taylor published the first Principles of Economics textbook, available as a free download from Freeload Press. He has also edited a wide range of books and reports and published articles on globalization, the new economy, and outsourcing. From 1989 to 1997, Professor Taylor wrote an economics opinion column for the San Jose Mercury-News.

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Rated 4.7 out of 5 by 43 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Part of Great Background in Economic History Professor Timothy Taylor is an excellent lecturer, knowledgeable and excited about his topics. I've taken several of his courses and he never fails to please. I highly recommend that, if you are interested in economics, you take this one early in your studies. This isn't the dry stuff of your average economics class. Professor Taylor guides you through the history and philosophy of ten of the giants, whose minds have guided the economic lives of the world. From the mercantilists through Milton Friedman, he exposes you to a wide spectrum of economic philosophies and conceptual models. Much of the news you encounter today assumes you understand one or more of these economists and these models. Keynes is widely discussed, as is Freidman when monetary policy is the topic. A familiarity with both is often assumed. Adam Smith is quoted widely, usually in terms of his Invisible Hand, arguing for a radical laissez faire approach. But his views on the necessity of government intervention imply no reliance on such mindless, magical guidance. If you have ever read Smith, or tried to, you know that he was not a simple-minded apologist for unfettered capitalism, a point made well by Professor Taylor. Economics is the stuff of real life adventure today. Professor Taylor's series will furnish you with the basic literacy in economic figures you need to understand the public discussion. November 13, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Succinct history of economic ideas I used this course as part of a semester-long homeschool economics course. We found the lectures interesting and thought provoking, and the lecturer was an engaging speaker. Our two concerns: In the later lectures the speaker had a lot to cover in a small amount of time. Pausing the lecture periodically to catch up in our notes and be sure that everyone was clear on the ideas was very helpful. We also found it strange that the professor talked about improvements in the working conditions of auto workers without ever saying the word union . Though I would generally characterize the professor as a centrist who did not push any particular agenda, we did think that little things like this, and the care the professor took to be sure we understood that Marx was wrong, revealed a slight bias. However, it was never troublesome and is certainly balanced by the suggested readings, which give listeners plenty of room to develop their own opinions. The Worldly Philosophers and Teachings from the Worldly Philosophy are excellent accompaniments to the lecture series. As an adult 20 years out of college, I really enjoyed the refresher course. It was also good way to learn a little more about the Austrian school, which has enjoyed some recent vogue with libertarians, and which I did not study in high school or college. As a layperson I appreciated the focus on history and ideas rather than formulas and graphs. October 6, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Great overview of an often overlooked topic The course provides a good overview on the evolution of economic understanding from the very beginnings of such thought - something that is often overlooked when studying economics in general. Professor Taylor does a fantastic job in bringing forth the material in a way that is engaging and interesting, and it is obvious that he has a huge depth of knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject. October 26, 2013
Rated 5 out of 5 by Great Course on Great Economic Thinkers This is the first audio only course I have taken. As a believer in non-verbal communication as well as verbal, I was apprehensive. However, Tim Taylor did not disappoint. He spoke with enthusiasm and clarity. (I didn't hear a single "ah" until lecture 5 and only one more in lecture 10). He told the stories of these great economic thinkers and their various theories with objectivity both in the context of their times and with respect to how their theories played out into modern times. The course guide is outstanding. It is an outline of the salient points of each economists points, it contains a glossary, brief biographical sketches, and the best annotated bibliography I have seen from The Great Courses. He explicitly tells the reader how to manage their way through Adam Smith's work including which parts to avoid and he encourages all but the most patient and diligent to not even attempt reading Riccardo. The recommended reading, Heilbruner's, "The Worldly Philosophers" is itself a tough read, but I would recommend plowing through it. It does not cover Milton Friedman however. A more modern equivalent is Sylvia Naser's (author of "A Beautiful Mind") " Grand Pursuit'. Naser's book starts in the 1800's so Adam Smith is not included but Friedman and more modern economists are. This course was produced in 1998. Thus "The Great Recession" had not yet occurred. Tim Taylor's modern analogies were thus to a period with relatively good economic prosperity. It would be interesting to hear what his 21st century analogies to the Great Economists' theories would be so hopefully a revised edition is in the offing. September 10, 2013
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