How many paths has economic thought followed?
In the introductory chapter I pointed out that the history of economic thought is useful both to get a ‘sense of direction’ in contemporary theoretical enquiry and to explore the conceptual foundations of theoretical models now in use. This means following the process of abstraction underlying such models and so being better equipped to evaluate them. What conclusions does this lead us to at the end of our journey?
Let us address the question taking three aspects into account. The first point is whether the path followed so far by economic research runs in a precise direction of progress. Second, we will briefly consider one of the main tendencies in contemporary economic research: the tendency to subdivision, or rather fragmentation, of research into an increasing number of specialised fields. Third, and the answer here will inevitably be largely provisional and personal – little more than a bet – starting from the reconstruction of the history of economic analysis set out in the preceding chapters I shall try to gauge the direction in which we might most profitably proceed.
The first aspect constitutes a necessary premise for dealing with the other two. Happily, the answer is sufficiently clear: the path followed up to now by economic research is far from linear. Historians of thought inevitably simplify their subject matter, focusing on what they see as the most significant features.