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Legacies of Great Economists

Legacies of Great Economists

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Legacies of Great Economists

Course No. 528
Professor Timothy Taylor, M.Econ.
Macalester College
Share This Course
4.8 out of 5
53 Reviews
77% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 528
Audio Streaming Included Free

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
 |  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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Video DVD
Audio Download Includes:
  • Ability to download 10 audio lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 52-page printed 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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Also By This Professor


Legacies of Great Economists is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 53.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from the thread of economic thought I liked the one. Though I have not been drawn to economics courses I have discovered that "The Great Courses" does a fabulous job with this genre. This course is well worth the time. It ties together the thread of economic thought from mercantilism to the more modern ideas of Keynes and Friedman in a way that I found very illuminating. On the negative side, it starts out a little slow. Merchantalism is not an exhilarating economic perspective and the professor spends way too much time on "The Fable of the Bees". If he was trying to establish that mercantilist thought was lame then he succeeded. Lame or not, as Professor Taylor points out, mercantilism is still part of the dynamic today. Next comes Adam Smith, which is always the good stuff. It seems to me that Adam Smith and Karl Marx were the ones that moved the world. The rest are merely footnotes. I enjoyed the treatment of Marx as much as that of Adam Smith. But the connecting thread of economic thought really lies in those footnotes. Here I met people I did not know and people I knew but know them better now. For example I knew of the Malthusian postulate of population growth but never really thought of it as part of economics. I did know know of Alfred Marshall's enormous contributions at all. Keynes and Friedman were active in my economic fate. This course helped me to see them as part of the history of economic thought. Now, I think I will seek out my next economics course.
Date published: 2017-05-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Economics Yes, But What About Capitalism? I have mixed feelings about this course. It’s a good survey of the most important Anglo-American economists from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman and the famous Austrians Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek and Joseph Schumpeter. It even includes Karl Marx and a couple of 20th century market socialists. The focus is on their ideas, as it should be, but you also learn a little about their personal backgrounds and relationships. For example, I had no idea that Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo were close friends as well as intellectual sparring partners. Yet Professor Taylor seems unduly dismissive of Marx and later socialists, and the biographical format means that he skips other important critiques of capitalism, especially firms’ tendency to dump costs onto other people or the natural world whenever possible, what economists call by the opaque term “externalities.” The premier case today is the fossil fuel industries’ contribution to manmade global warming, an issue facing the public even in 1996, when Taylor made this course. Another recent issue has been the growth of inequality and wealth since around 1980 with neoliberal globalization and financial deregulation. To be fair, though, the dot-com debacle in 1999-2001, the housing bubble collapse in 2007-09, and Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century were all in the future in 1996. Furthermore, economists seem completely oblivious to the mutual feedback between the concentration of wealth and political power, such as corporations’ ability to change market conditions by lobbying for subsidies, more lenient tax treatment, new regulation or deregulation, higher or lower tariffs, and changes to immigration standards. I am as much an economic individual as Microsoft or Goldman Sachs, but I won’t get the same level of attention from Congress. Of the many men covered in this course, only Karl Marx seems to have paid attention to the latter two problems, while only Thomas Malthus thought about the environment, and then only in terms of human population. Still, for what you pay for this audio download course, it is definitely a good buy, and I would recommend it.
Date published: 2017-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mercantilists to Milton (Friedman) audio download version I missed economics pretty much completely during my long-ago academic career, considering it to be uninteresting. True enough I could toss out names like Adam Smith during social conservation, but really had little understanding of what he, or others wrote and why. Thanks to Professor Taylor I now have the beginnings of understanding of economic theory over time and why thinking has changed according to the times. Professor Taylor presents this wide view of economics by discussing important economists and their ideas in an engaging fashion. His enthusiasm for the subject and the personalities is obvious and contributes in no small way to to making a dry subject entertaining. I really did not detect too much bias in his presentation, but I was left to wonder if this course was updated, would he have included Paul Krugman as advancing economic theory? Highly recopmmended
Date published: 2016-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Better than a Root Canal These days if something is better than excruciating dental pain, I give it high marks. In the case of this course, I must say that I was informed, enlightened, and entertained. The material was organized in a coherent way. The coursebook mentioned a book called "The Worldly Philosophers" by Heilbroner. I read it before listening to this course and found it a nice complement. The professor seems very excited about his material. He's got a lively voice. I had the audio version, but I'm guessing that in the video version, he is not dressed like a dentist, so for those of you with dental anxiety, I think this course should be safe. One other thing: when discussing the ideas of various thinkers, the professor models the principle of intellectual charity and gives everybody a fair shake. His lecture on Schumpeter knocked my socks off, but fortunately they didn't go very far and I was able to put them back on without any trouble.
Date published: 2016-10-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative course Great course, filled with much information. A history of economics and the people who shaped it. Terrific instructor.
Date published: 2016-04-05
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
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