Joan Robinson

English economist (1903–1983)

Joan Robinson FBA (30 October 19035 August 1983) was a British post-Keynesian economist who made many contributions to economic theory.

There is no such thing as a normal period of history. Normality is a fiction of economic textbooks.

Quotes edit

  • Whatever you can rightly say about India, the opposite is also true.
    • Amartya Sen's article in 'The Economist' dated November 18th, 2005 [1]

Economic Philosophy (1962) edit

Page numbers are from the 2006 Aldine printing.
  • Progress is slow partly from mere intellectual inertia. In a subject where there is no agreed procedure for knocking out errors, doctrines have a long life. A professor teaches what he was taught, and his pupils, with a proper respect and reverence for teachers, set up a resistance against his critics for no other reason than that it was he whose pupils they were.
    • p. 79

An Essay on Marxian Economics (Second Edition) (1966) edit

  • I began to read Capital, just as one reads any book, to see what was in it; I found a great deal that neither its followers nor its opponents had prepared me to expect.
    • Preface To The Second Edition, p. vi
  • Until recently, Marx used to be treated in academic circles with contemptuous silence, broken only by an occasional mocking footnote. But modern developments in academic theory, forced by modern developments in economic life — the analysis of monopoly and the analysis of unemployment — have shattered the structure of orthodox doctrine and destroyed the complacency with which economists were wont to view the working of laissez-faire capitalism. Their attitude to Marx, as the leading critic of capitalism, is therefore much less cocksure than it used to be. In my belief, they have much to learn from him.
    • Foreword, p. xxii
  • The fundamental differences between Marxian and traditional orthodox economics are, first, that the orthodox economists accept the capitalist system as part of the eternal order of Nature, while Marx regards it as a passing phase in the transition from the feudal economy of the past to the socialist economy of the future.
    • Chapter I, Introduction, p. 1
  • In general, the nightmare quality of Marx's thought gives it, in this bedevilled age, an air of greater reality than the gentle complacency of the orthodox academics. Yet he, at the same time, is more encouraging than they, for he releases hope as well as terror from Pandora's box, while they preach only the gloomy doctrine that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.
    • Chapter I, Introduction, p. 4-5
  • Voltaire remarked that it is possible to kill a flock of sheep by witchcraft if you give them plenty of arsenic at the same time. The sheep, in this figure, may well stand for the complacent apologists of capitalism; Marx's penetrating insight and bitter hatred of oppression supply the arsenic, while the labour theory of value provides the incantations.
    • Chapter III, The Labour Theory Of Value, p. 22
  • If there is any law governing the distribution of income between classes, it still remains to be discovered.
    • Chapter IV, The Long-Period Theory Of Employment, p. 34
  • Modern technique, as Marx pointed out, fosters the concentration of capital, and the levels of profits is supported by a scarcity of enterprise which is not due to the real cost of risk-bearing, but to the scarcity of individuals who have anything to risk.
    • Chapter VII, The Orthodox Theory of Profit, p. 57-58
  • It is the rate of investment which governs the rate of saving, and not vice versa.
    • Chapter VIII, The General Theory of Employment, p. 66
  • If a rise in wages does not raise prices, a fall will not reduce them.
    • Chapter X, Real And Money Wages, p. 89
  • Marx, however imperfectly he worked out the details, set himself the task of discovering the law of motion of capitalism, and if there is any hope of progress in economics at all, it must be in using academic methods to solve the problems posed by Marx.
    • Chapter XI, Dynamic Analysis, p. 95

Economic Heresies (1971) edit

  • The orthodox doctrines of economics which were dominant in the last quarter of the nineteenth century had a clear message. They supported laisser faire, free trade, the gold standard, and the universally advantageous effects of the pursuit of profit by competitive private enterprise.
    • Introduction, p. vii
  • In all the talk in the Principles (as opposed to the formal analysis) it is not the saving of rentiers but the energy of entrepreneurs which governs accumulation.
    • Chapter I, Stationary States, p. 14
  • Reality is never a golden age.
    • Chapter III, Interest and Profit, p. 47
  • Rosa Luxemburg maintained that the capitalist system can keep up its rate of investment (and therefore its profits) only so long as it is expanding geographically.
    • Chapter III, Interest and Profits, p. 50 (confer Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Buch II, Chapter XX, p. 474)
  • But once we bring historical time into the argument, it is not so easy to present the free play of the market as an ideal mechanism for maximizing welfare and securing social justice.
    • Chapter IV, Increasing and Diminishing Returns, p. 63
  • When a large part of the market for British textiles was in the colonies, a fall in the price of tea and cocoa caused unemployment in Lancashire.
    • Chapter V, Nonmonetary Models, p. 67
  • There is an unearthly, mystical element in Friedman's thought. The mere existence of a stock of money somehow promotes expenditure. But insofar as he offers an intelligible theory, it is made up of elements borrowed from Keynes.
    • Chapter VI, Prices and Money, p. 87
  • Time, so to say, runs at right angles to the page at each point on the curve.
    • Chapter VII, The Theory of the Firm, p. 104
  • The nature of technology depends very much upon what the public can be induced to put up with.
    • Chapter VIII, Growth Models, p. 140
  • Even if the crises that are looming up are overcome and a new run of prosperity lies ahead, deeper problems will still remain. Modern capitalism has no purpose except to keep the show going.
    • Conclusion, p. 143

Contributions to Modern Economics (1978) edit

  • When I came up to Cambridge (in October 1921) to read economics, I did not have much idea of what it was about.
    • Reminiscences, p. ix
  • It is a popular error that bureaucracy is less flexible than private enterprise. It may be so in detail, but when large scale adaptations have to be made, central control is far more flexible. It may take two months to get an answer to a letter from a government department, but it takes twenty years for an industry under private enterprise to readjust itself to a fall in demand.
    • Chapter 3, Obstacles to Full Employment, p. 27 (See also: General Motors)
  • It is impossible to add the stock of money to the flow of saving.
    • Chapter 4, The Concept of Hoarding, p. 32
  • But, as soon as speculators become an important influence in the market, their business is to speculate on each others behaviour.
    • Chapter 5, The Rate of Interest, p. 46
  • Michal Kalecki's claim to priority of publication is indisputable.
    • Chapter 6, Kalecki And Keynes, p. 55
  • The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.
    • Chapter 7, Marx, Marshall and Keynes, p. 75
  • 'Capital' is not what capital is called, it is what its name is called.
    • Chapter 8, Production Function and Theory of Capital, p. 79
  • It is high time to abandon the mainstream and take to the turbulent waters of truly dynamic analysis.
    • Chapter 11, The Meaning of Capital, p. 125
  • But the tygers of wrath go the other way. Do not ask me why. It is just a fact I noticed when I was looking through field glasses from a machan.
    • Chapter 13, Lecture at Oxford by a Cambridge Economist, p. 143 (spelling as per text...)
  • Why did the hunters in the Wealth of Nations exchange beavers for deer?
    • Chapter 14, The Philosophy of Prices, p. 146
  • It is much easier to organize control over one industry serving many markets than over one market served by the products of several industries.
    • Chapter 15, 'Imperfect Competition' Revisited, p. 167
  • Income from property is not the reward of waiting, it is the reward of employing a good stockbroker.
    • Chapter 16, The Theory of Value Reconsidered, p. 188
  • At any moment there is certainly not balanced trade between the various areas of the habitable globe that happens to be under separate national governments — there is an ever-changing pattern of deficits and surpluses.
    • Chapter 19, The Need For A Reconsideration, p. 218
  • It seems that neither the Keynesian nor the Marxian prognosis of the future of capitalism is being fulfilled and we are left without any particular theory as to what will happen next.
    • Chapter 20, Has Capitalism Changed?, p. 227
  • To supply goods is a source of profit, but to supply services is a ' burden upon industry '. It is for this reason that when, as a nation, ' we have never had it so good ' we find that we ' cannot afford ' just what we most need.
    • Chapter 21, Latter-Day Capitalism, p. 239
  • An agent must have some discretion.
    • Chapter 22, Socialist Affluence., p. 246
  • The bastard Keynesian doctrine, evolved in the United States, invaded the economic faculties of the world, floating on the wings of the almighty dollar.
    • Chapter 23, What Has Become of Employment Policy?, p. 256
  • " the merchant had observed that the marginal utility of daughters decreases with surprising rapidity."
    • Chapter 24, Beauty and the Beast, p. 268

Quotes about Joan Robinson edit

  • I must mention my special intellectual debt to Joan Robinson, with whom I had the opportunity to discuss over a period of nearly twenty years some of the problems analysed here. She, more than anybody else, convinced me of the radical content of Keynesian economics which we could decipher more easily with the help of Marx and Kalecki.
    • Amit Bhaduri, Macro-Economics - The Dynamics of Commodity Production, Preface, p. xii
  • I claim that this dinner, too much to eat and drink, was the basic reason why, for the only time in my life, I slept with Joan Robinson. Let me tell you the story. Ken Arrow was to read his famous paper - we know now that it was famous - on uncertainty and the economics of medical care, and I was one of the guests asked to come to the Arts Theatre Restaurant. It was a cold winter's night, we ate and drank a lot, and then we went into this room with a great big fire and a huge couch. Joan sat here, and I sat there, and Ken was sitting as close to me as you are now, and both Joan and I went to sleep while he read his paper.
  • She was taken in a sealed train from coast to coast—from Paul Baran to Paul Sweezy.
    • Paul Samuelson, quoted in Michael Szenberg, Lall Ramrattan and Aron Gottesman, "Ten Ways to Know Paul A. Samuelson" (2006)
  • I remember also when I was a student in Cambridge, one of my teachers, Joan Robinson, a great economist, explained to me why China is so admirable, as she was making a cultural comparison of the kind which has become very common now ever since Sam Huntington wrote his book about civilisation and trying to reduce every civilisation into something like a one or two sentence summary. Joan told me that the real trouble with Indians, she told me, is that Indians are just too rude; and she said the Japanese, the trouble really is that the Japanese are too polite; and then she said the Chinese are just right. So I think those are good inspiration to go and study the Chinese experience.
    Now, in so far as private income is only one of the influences on the achievements in reducing poverty, the first thing I want to mention is that even though in the poverty discussion most of the concentration tends to be these days on what happened since economic reform. The fact is that there is a very major lesson in what happened in China previous to that. I am not commenting on the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, I am not talking about the Chinese famine (from) ’59 to ’61 in which 29.6 million people died. There were all kinds of mistakes.
    But the fact is that China was still the global leader as a poor country expanding basic education at a level which was very hard to imagine, as well as basic health care. All kinds of things came like “barefoot doctors” and so on. But the spread of health care across the country was quite remarkable. By 1979, when the economic reform came, the Chinese life expectancy was already 68 years; the Indian life expectancy was 54 years, 14 years behind it.
    There are really major lessons there, and I might say also one of the unsung contributions of the pre-reform educational and health care expansion is, I believe, the radical economic expansion that took place in the 1980s. After the economic reform, it would have been very hard without the base of elementary education which China had and India did not at that time, which is still a factor which bothers India badly.
  • Instead, I would concede her a point of uncertain importance. There isn't really a great deal to economics, considered as a logical structure based upon a few indisputable axioms about the world. … A logician is a wondrous creature, but he cannot distinguish between the two simple errors: if A = B, and B = C, then (1) A = 1.01C, and (2) A = 10⁶⁵C. An economist can.
  • That combination, Hayek, Myrdal and Robinson, might have cast the contributions of each into sharper relief: three pioneers who, after important early contributions, gave up economics for political activism.

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