How did economics get started? What are the historical foundations of economic science and who were the first important writers on economics? The first podcast of the class starts with Galileo (yes, the astronomer) and takes you up through Bernard Mandeville, to give you an overview of where economic reasoning initially came from.

In the second section of Great Economists, we will continue looking at early economists and thinkers before Adam Smith. We'll be discussing Richard Cantillon's importance as a monetary theorist, Anne-Marie-Jacques Turgot writings on the distribution of riches (land, capital, and labor), Francois Quesnay's quantitative economic model he referred to as the "Tableau économique" and David Hume's thoughts on interest, trade, taxes, public debt and money.

Adam Smith

Adam Smith was arguably the greatest economist of all time, and Wealth of Nations is his greatest book. It remains a masterpiece to this day, and we set out to study it once again. Please join us in this quest to understand and to see the invisible hand!

The opening parts of The Wealth of Nations have some of the most important material ever produced by economists. Smith covers the division of labor, the origins of exchange, and the critical question of why productivity differs across nations and regions. If you are going to study only one part of Wealth of Nations, this should be it.

In Book II of The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith presents his ideas on capital, capital accumulation, and how capital is connected with economic growth. You'll also find some controversial parts of the book here, such as the critique of usury and the distinction between productive and unproductive labor.

Book III is Smith at his most wide-ranging, Smith as historian, Smith as urban economist, Smith as growth theorist, and Smith as a thinker about the past, present, and future of Europe. The title -- "Of the different Progress of Opulence in different Nations" -- sums it up well. These are some of the most sweeping and breathtaking parts of *The Wealth of Nations*.

Book IV offers some of Smith's most important discussions in Wealth of Nations, including his famous critique of mercantilism. The discussion of the corn trade is a favorite and it provides one of the most incisive understandings of the market price system which has ever been written.

Taxes, debt, and fiscal policy are objects of some of the most heated debates in economics today. In this final part of The Wealth of Nations, you can take a look at what Smith thought on all of these topics. In important ways he remains ahead of the curve.

This week in our Great Economists course, we will highlight important figures that came after Adam Smith and discuss several key questions. Where did classical economics head after Adam Smith? Which ideas became part of the canon and which fell away? What was the Ricardian model and how did it work? Did the classical economists really believe in laissez-faire? And finally, how does all this tie into the eventual evolution of modern economics?

This week in our Great Economists course, we move into the heart of classical economics and examine such thinkers as Frederic Bastiat, John Stuart Mill, Friedrich List, and the early French mathematical economists. It is remarkable during this period how rapidly economics is developing and how sophisticated its insights are becoming.

- Older Posts »