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  • Steven G. Medema (a1)


The history of economics, properly read, is very much a history of economics in the public sphere. Sir William Petty developed his most important insights in the process of providing advice on taxation to the monarch. Adam Smith wrote with a view to influencing the habits of thought of both the educated layman and policy makers. Jane Marcet and Harriet Martineau brought early classical political economy to the masses. David Ricardo formulated foundational elements of the nineteenth-century classical system writing policy pamphlets and then entered Parliament with a view to putting policy making on a solid economic footing. Karl Marx’s intended audience was anything but the practitioners of the emerging science of political economy. Alfred Marshall buried his technical analysis in appendices to maximize the exposure of his work. John Maynard Keynes’s influence can be ascribed, without too much injustice, as much to his effectiveness outside the walls of Cambridge as within them and to the use by others of his ideas in that same public realm. Yet, despite this lengthy history of economists’ engagements with various publics, including those pulling the levers of policy, those writing on the history of economics have focused far more intently on the history of theory and the implications for the construction of a body of thought known as “economic analysis” than on the interplay among economists, economic ideas, and the public realm. It is as if the economic conversation went on solely within the space of academic departments of economics, even though those spaces are very recent creations.



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The author thanks Roger Backhouse, Mauro Boianovsky, Bob Dimand, the editors, and an anonymous referee for instructive comments on previous drafts of this essay. Of course, the usual caveat applies.



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