Legacies of Great Economists

Course No. 528
Professor Timothy Taylor, M.Econ.
Macalester College
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Course No. 528
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Course Overview

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.

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10 lectures
 |  Average 44 minutes each
  • 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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  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 52-page digital course guidebook
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider
  • Glossary

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Your professor

Timothy Taylor

About Your Professor

Timothy Taylor, M.Econ.
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...
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Reviews

Legacies of Great Economists is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 57.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Taste of the Economic Mind through Biography This is a truly worthy purchase for anyone hoping to expand their knowledge of economics. Professor Taylor is in top form with this course, and though the content is slightly outmoded by its age (it came out in 1996), you would not know it simply by listening. There are many invaluable lessons to be learned about economic theory and thought as it evolved through the past few centuries, and this course does its best to tell us as much as it can with the time it has. There are just ten lectures, each roughly forty-five minutes long, devoted to one or two great economic giants. If there is a complaint to be drawn from this, it is its length. Each of these economists could receive a 6 or 12 lecture long course on their own, and as such the brief window we have into their contributions and lives can come off like we are merely glancing at them from the window of a moving car. Even so, this is truly invaluable as a guide to help you navigate deeper waters on your own in the future.
Date published: 2015-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating course I enjoyed listening to how the economists' theories have changed over time. I liked that the Professor also described the time that the various economists lived in, what were the over-riding issues of the day, what they were personally worried about, and what they hoped would change ... or feared would not. It also allows me to think more critically of what our politicians are saying today given today's economic slump.
Date published: 2015-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2014-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2014-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2013-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2013-09-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I can't believe economic history is enjoyable! I originally purchased this course at least 10 years ago, on cassette, when the standard length of the lectures were 45 minutes in length. I recently upgraded to the audio download, and now I have re-listened to this course for the third time. I can recommend this course without reservation. Getting into it, however, you should understand what this course is not. What this course is not is an introduction to economics, economic theory, or how it is playing out in our daily lives. This course is the history of the development of economic thought over that last 200 years by reviewing the lives and thoughts of some of the key players have developed this science. Prof. Taylor has a number of teaching company course, and they are, almost without fail, all good. This one is no exception. Some of the joys of this course happen when you run into names that you find in other courses. The best example was John Stuart Mill. His life and thought are covered here, as they are in the "Great Books" course by Prof. Fears and the "Freedom, the Philosophy of Liberation" course by Prof. Dalton. The payoff to listening to a number of the Great Courses is just such an instance where you experience the synergy of having three different professors discuss a seminal thinker in the development of both economic and political philosophy. Additionally, as you get into the later lectures, some of the debates that are still playing out in the USA regarding economic policy are reflected in these lectures. Keynes? Lecture 9. Friedman? Lecture 10. The Austrian School and Hayak? Lecutre 7. This course must 15 years old now, but it still just as strong and powerful as it was when it was recorded.
Date published: 2013-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brief, Vital Economics Course Timothy Taylor is, in my opinion, the best of the very good faculty of the Great Courses. He is clear, personal, accurate, fair, and easy to listen to, with no annoying habits. Most important, though, is that in this brief course he is able to distill a clear and useful history of economic thought since before Adam Smith. He treats Marx fairly and accurately - but not worshipfully - a sure test of an economist, I think. Having taken this course, one is prepared to understand and place in context most of the important underlying ideas talked about by contemporary economists discussing current issues.
Date published: 2012-03-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredibly Intersting Prof. Taylor does it again. He takes what could be similar to watching paint dry and makes it loads of fun. I have absolutely no economics background other than his overview of economics course. This course is more about the theories that lead to current economics theory than the economists it discusses (certainly that's the way I perceived it). It was really interesting, and convinced me, with all due respect, that economics is like the weather - constantly changing and hard to predict. But this course gave me, in a very entertaining way, a structure with which to evaluate current thoughts.
Date published: 2011-12-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Slow down, swallow, take a breath Very sorry to tarnish the Professor's thoughtful intellectual enterprise with an observation that it seems that EVERY other reviewer missed, but Prof. Taylor is downright hard to listen to. At times he sounds just fine, but in 7 of these lectures he talks way too fast, seems to be shouting, and has way too much saliva in his mouth. It is just unpalatable at times, to the point of missing entire points of what he is saying. I know he has many fans here, and great reviews, and 0 will find this review helpful and I'll be scorned, but trust me I did not want to write this, it is just unavoidable. Economics 3rd edition was high on my wish list, but unless his speaking is more restrained than it is here, I just won't be able to purchase it.
Date published: 2011-11-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent intro to economics This was a fascinating run through the history of economic thought. It obviously isn't intended to be comprehensive but covers a broad scope in a compact package. Dr Taylor has inspired me to learn more about both academic and historical economics. Taylor's delivery is excellent and a quite enjoyable listen. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2011-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A good place to start with economics This is my first course with Professor Taylor and it’s consistently good throughout, both content and delivery. It’s a safe bet I’ll soon be looking into other courses of his on offer. This is one of the courses that you can listen to repeatedly; you won’t be bored, you’ll probably pick up something different each time, you might change your way of thinking about an issue or two, and there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself relating everything to our own current economic events of the day. In ten fast lectures you get acquainted with the economic theories of influential economists, mostly through a narrative of their lives and times. As a result, you also get a decent historical overview. The course was interesting to me because you learn about their ideas and whether or not they have held up to the test of time—often they don’t! You get a good feel for how economics has changed and evolved through the ages.
Date published: 2011-10-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Good One from Taylor Tim Taylor is just great to listen too. This course is a nice short intro to some of history's great economists. I think it would serve as a great introductory course to folks just getting familiar with the field of economics. Hopefully, the Great Courses can refit this series into 30-minute segments.
Date published: 2011-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Please buy, tired of misquotes I am tired of hearing people quote Keynsian theory and it is Marx or Freedman and it is Adam Smith. I think Prof. Taylor is a create professor and have enjoyed everyone of his courses. He is truly a superstar teacher and his qualifications back him up.
Date published: 2011-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exactly what it says Good passion from the prof on the topic, ties it all together nicely. It is exactly what it says. I'd certainly take another course from this prof without hesitation if the subject interested me.
Date published: 2011-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Starter This course is a great starting point for further investigation in the complex world of economics.
Date published: 2011-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent coverage of economic history It has been a few years since I listened to this course. I bought this as an audio download and burned the MP3s to CD. This course gives an excellent overview of the history of economic thought. I highly recommend it. I also highly recommend "History of the U.S. Economy in the 20th Century" by the same professor.
Date published: 2010-03-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant summary This course is a great summary of the greatest historical thinkers in economics. Professor Timothy Taylor is very articulate and enthusiastic - I really enjoyed it. This course, covering 10 lectures @~45 minutes each, is relatively brief (compared to other courses here) and therefore could be finished relatively quickly. I personally really enjoyed the coverages of Adam Smith, Alfred Marshall and J Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman. I also liked the fact that Prof Taylor is balanced in his materials - i.e., he didn't just cover the economists whose views are the most 'correct' from today's lens. He also covered Karl Marx's and his ideas and spent a lecture on the early 20th century debates surrounding socialism vs capitalism. Thoroughly enjoyable and a definite great value of money.
Date published: 2010-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Great Lecture by Prof Taylor Prof Taylor once again provides us with a insightful and fun lecture on Economics. The discussions on each of the areas were insightful and honest, showing both the sucesses and the failures within each idea of it's time, as well as explaining why they came about. My only real wish would have been a more detailed discussion around Austrian Economics - but that's just a personal preference and not a complaint.
Date published: 2010-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The best! Far better than Heilbroner Tim Taylor has permitted me to appear almost brilliant in teaching 'economics for those who hate economics.' (I include a month on economics from feudalism to present day in my World Civilization II course.) Tim is the most knowledgeable, down-to-earth economist I have ever encountered. Heilbroner was very good on the Great Economists. Tim is far better. His lectures on Adam Smith and Karl Marx are classic--erudite, personable, and sharply honed. On Marx, for example, Tim is generous about Marx's objectives, then states that, on key economic principles and economic predictions, he "just got it wrong.' On Adam Smith, his lecture is a classic, given by a great admirer. Distinct from Heilbroner, Tim provides a critical assessment of the 'social economists.' Moreover, he delves into both Keynes and Friedman. I have listened to these tapes six or seven times both for enhancing my knowledge and for pure enjoyment.
Date published: 2009-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The best! Far better than Heilbroner Tim Taylor has permitted me to appear almost brilliant in teaching 'economics for those who hate economics.' {I include a month of economics in my World Civilization II course.] Tim is the most knowledgeable, down-to-earth economist I have ever encountered. Heibroner was very good on the Great Economists. Tim is far better. His lectures on Adam Smith and Karl Marx are classic--erudite, personable, and sharply honed. On Marx, for example, Tim is generous about Marx's objectives, then states that, on key economic principles, he 'just got it wrong.' On Adam Smith, his lecture is a classic, given by a great admirer. Distinct from Heilbroner, Tim provides a critical assessment of the 'social economists.' Moreover, he delves into both Keynes and Friedman. I have listened to these tapes six or seven times both for enhancing my knowledge and for pure enjoyment. Keith Wheelock
Date published: 2009-08-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Top marks all around I loved basically everything about this course. As someone fairly familiar with the economic concepts discussed in the course, I found it fascinating to learn how these brilliant minds pieced together our modern understanding of economics over time. Furthermore, the economists discussed were fascinating people, and the professor brings alive not only their intellectual contributions but also their personalities and lives. His analysis is fair-minded and his delivery is superb. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2009-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Survey of the Great Economists This is a quite fun and enjoyable survey of the great economists and their theories. I'm an economics teacher, and even I learned a lot. He really makes their lives and thought come alive. Excellent, clear, and fun lecture style. Makes a subtle and difficult subject fairly easy to understand. Well done! I wish he'd survey more of them!
Date published: 2009-04-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Okay I listened to half of it but couldn't finish. I don't know if this subject can be easily taught in an audio course
Date published: 2009-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great, but short Absolutely a great course, but just too short. I would be the first in line to buy a longer History of Economic Thought course.
Date published: 2009-01-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb professor! Essential topic! It’s a sad, but probably safe, thing to say that economics - let alone the history of past economic theorists - is not a subject we often think of as compelling, or one with a dramatic human story to tell. Yet, we intuitively know that our history has been influenced almost incalculably by the writings of Adam Smith, Marx, Keynes, and many others, and in particular by how well (or poorly) their ideas about the economy conform to the reality of daily life and human behavior. Timothy Taylor of Macalester College brings to life the real people whose debates, theories, and sometimes passionate disagreements over the past 250 years have shaped so much of what we now take for granted about business, unemployment, government intervention, taxes, inflation, growth, and much else. Is the value of a thing derived solely from the amount of labor that goes into producing it? (Marx) Or does its utility to the consumer have something to do with its value, and hence the price it will command in the marketplace? (John Stuart Mill & Alfred Marshall) Do prices rise simply because in circular logic “things are getting more expensive” (Malthus) or does the amount of money in circulation have something to do with it? (David Ricardo) One of the fascinating things that Taylor shows in the ten lectures of Legacies of the Great Economists, is the repeated influence had by the biological and physical sciences on economics. A leading predecessor of modern economists, the French Physiocrat François Quesnay, studied medicine and became a court physician and surgeon before applying the contemporary theories of the day about the circulation of blood in the body to the field of economics. The result was his Tableau Economique, (hailed by no less than Adam Smith as equally significant with the invention of writing and of language!) which envisioned goods and capital circulating throughout the economy among farmers, merchants and landlords. In another case of cross-fertilization between biology and economics almost a century later, Charles Darwin would say that Thomas Malthus’ writings on population influenced his own theories of natural selection, which in turn would influence Karl Marx when he wrote about the struggles of the working class in Das Kapital. Later, Marginalists such as Jevons, Walras, and most of all Alfred Marshall, took their training in physics and mathematics and decided to apply that level of precision to the largely sociological field of economics (much to the dismay of many an econ student since!) The result, however, was the development of a powerful new set of tools for more clearly explaining such things as diminishing marginal utility in consumption (why is that 4th ice cream cone so much less satisfying than the first?) and economies of scale in production. Most of all, Taylor shows the human side of these sometimes dry and analytical thinkers. Many of them like Smith, Mill, Malthus, and Marshall, had a background in the ministry, and infused all of their economic thinking with ideas based on theology and ethics about how to improve the plight of humanity by devising better ways to allocate scarce resources. Even Marx, of course - though his ideas would later be twisted and applied to disastrous effect - was initially moved by the horrible factory conditions of the English working class during the Industrial Revolution, and thus assumed that some eventual revolt against bourgeois capitalists was inevitable. With his warm and often witty style of lecturing, and a very focused and well-organized delivery, Prof. Taylor makes an otherwise dry and difficult subject understandable and actually entertaining. Legacies of the Great Economists takes theories we once heard about in a textbook or classroom long ago, and shows their immediate relevance for the economic discussions going on all around us today. I have listened to over 40 TeachCo courses, and Prof. Taylor is my hands-down favorite, second ONLY to Prof. Gary Gallagher's and his courses on the American Civil War.
Date published: 2009-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating evolution of economic thought The striking take-away from these lectures is just how far economic thinking has come in the last 250 years. Understanding what people believed about the economy 100, 200, or 300 years ago gives great insight into other events in history during those time periods. Prof Taylor wonderfully tells the story of how economic thinking has evolved during this time period. I was sad when the last lecture ended. I wish it had been 24 lectures!
Date published: 2009-01-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Lively Introduction but Longer Course Needed Is 'less is more' an economic concept? There's certainly something to be said for just focussing on the essentials when it comes to the transient phenomena that go under the heading of 'economic theories'. At the same time, however, the shortness and selectivity is the course's obvious limitation - one that, hopefully, the TTC will overcome by engaging Taylor on a more comprehesive historical and economic treatment - and one that includes a detailed examination of more contemporary economists. Taylor's enthusiastic and lively delivery is really infectious but this virtue made it a bit frustrating that the lack of a DVD option meant his delivery couldn't been seen as well as just heard. I'm also a bit miffed to see from other reviews that the the audio-version of the lectures included a booklet whereas my downloaded version - which is listed as being the same price as the audio - didn't include one.
Date published: 2009-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Good With only 10 lectures to work with, this course faces limitations, but Taylor has chosen his material well and thus manages to provide a very good introductory historical survey of Western economic thinking. Taylor is a very enthusiastic lecturer with an evident love of the subject, and this keeps things interesting and stimulating for the audience -- a real plus, given that economics can easily become dry and boring if not presented with great care. One precaution. Despite the very good job Taylor has done, one can still finish the course wondering if one has actually gained any insights which are clear and useful. But I wouldn't fault Taylor for that, because the relative immaturity of economics as an academic subject makes conceptual messiness inevitable. In other words, it's not Taylor's fault. If you're interested in economics, I highly recommend the course; the historical presentation and Taylor's enthusiasm will make the course enjoyable. If you don't really know whether you're interested in economics, I'd still recommend the course because the course is a good appetizer with which you can judge how much the subject appeals to you.
Date published: 2008-12-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great overview of economics history I keep this on my iPod to use as brush up whenever I want to review something. This is a terrific general history of some of the great economic thinkers.
Date published: 2008-12-17
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