Joan Robinson's Economics: A Centennial Celebration.

AuthorStanfield, James Ronald
PositionBook review

Joan Robinson's Economics: A Centennial Celebration, edited by Bill Gibson. Northhampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2005. Hardback: ISBN 1 84376 932 8, $130.50. 416 pages.

This is a welcome collection celebrating the work of a very important heterodox economist. The first part of the book includes an overview by G. C. Harcourt of Robinson's career among her Cambridge colleagues. A portrait emerges of Robinson as a brilliant, passionate, influential, if some times a wee bit truculent, member of her important generation of the Cambridge group. Two other essays in the first part, by M. C. Marcuzzo and Claudio Sardoni, examine the relation of her work to Sraffa, Keynes, and Marx. One of the more interesting themes here involves the influence on Robinson of Marx and her relation to more doctrinal Marxists. Not surprisingly, Kalecki's name comes up often in this discussion in relation to effective demand, the nature and source of profit, and the long run dynamics of capitalism. In the final essay of part one, Prue Kerr addresses Robinson's role as a popularizer of economic theory, specifically in three brilliant essays dedicated to that purpose (Economic Philosophy, Economics: An Awkward Corner, and Freedom and Necessity). Though not notably successful, the three books are challenging and did not receive a widespread audience, Robinson must be credited for her efforts to bring to popular attention the complacency and bias of conventional economics and the need for a discourse on social justice and social discretion about the future.

The discussion of the challenge of developing a theory of capitalist development that is realistic, and free of the "preconception of normality" that bedevils equilibrium orientations, continues in the essays in the second part of the book. This portion addresses Robinson's methodological criticism of conventional theory, her pivotal role in the capital controversy, and the focus of these concerns on the development of a theory of capitalist dynamics. These essays contribute to our understanding of Robinson's role in the rise of evolutionary theories seeking to deal with complexity, increasing returns, cognitive limitations, path dependence...

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