A list of famous economists from Adam Smith to John M. Keynes. This page gives a brief summary of the ideological background and economic viewpoint of these influential economists.
Adam Smith (1723-1790) was a Scottish social philosopher and pioneer of classical economics. He is best known for his work ‘The Wealth of Nations‘ which laid down a framework for the basis of classical free-market economics. Smith is often referred to as the ‘Father of Economics.’ Smith’s work makes a strong case for free market economics, but he was also aware of situations where the free market could be against the public interest, for example, monopolies.
Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) British philosopher. Bentham was primarily a utilitarian philosopher. But, he used this philosophy to give insights into economics. Bentham raised the possibility of monetary expansion to achieve full employment. He was an early advocate of welfare economics – based on the principle of maximising utility/welfare in society.
Thomas Malthus (1766 – 1834) Malthus was an English rector who was an influential economist in the early nineteenth century. Best known for his prophecy that the population would grow faster than food. One of few economists who supported protectionism and the corn laws.
David Ricardo (1772 – 1823) British political economist. Ricardo played a key role in shaping classical economics, drawing on the work of Adam Smith. Ricardo’s greatest contribution was to argue for free trade, based on the theory of comparative advantage. This contrasted with the former mercantilist view of trying to run a trade surplus. Ricardo argued countries should specialise in those industries where they were relatively better than other countries.
Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) – German philosopher, founder of Marxism. Karl Marx wrote Das Capital and The Communist Manifesto. Marx argued that Capitalism was inherently unequal and unjust, and would lead to a revolution as the Proletariat rose up against the capitalist class. Marx created one of the strongest criticisms of classical/free market economics.
Ronald Coase (1910-2013) British economists who was Professor at University of Chicago. Coase wrote an influential work on the importance of transaction costs to explain the limitations of firms growing in size. His other important work was with regard to the problem of externalities and social costs, Coase suggested that the problem of social cost could be solved (if there are clearly defined property rights) by market trading amongst the affected parties.
Irving Fisher (1867 – 1947) American neo-classical economist. Fisher’s work on the quantity theory of money was influential in creating the modern economic school of monetarism. His also did work on debt deflation during the great depression and the bursting of a credit bubble, which has received renewed attention since 2008 crisis.
Fredrich Hayek (1899 – 1992) Austrian / British economist, LSE and Chicago University. Hayek’s ‘Road to Serfdom’ (1944) is a best-selling defence of classical liberalism and a free market approach. Hayek criticised state intervention in the economy and also criticised Keynes’ work on demand management. He is the second most cited economist and is seen as influential in the transition of Communist Eastern Europe to the free market.
Ludwig von Mises (1881 – 1973) Austrian economist. Mises is credited with the formation of the Austrian school of economics. This is strongly free market and blames recessions on excess credit and inefficient government intervention.
John Maynard Keynes (1883 – 1946) one of the most influential economists of the Twentieth Century. Keynes advocated a role for government to manage aggregate demand and overcome recessions. His General Theory (1936) laid the foundations of Keynesian economics and the new branch of macroeconomics.
Milton Friedman (1912 – 2006) American economist from the University of Chicago. Friedman rose to prominence for his advocacy of monetarism, which was adopted by US and UK governments in the 1980s. Friedman was critical of fiscal policy and government spending. Monetarism placed great faith in controlling the money supply to control inflation. He also supported free-market reforms, such as privatisation and de-regulation.
Joan Robinson (1903 – 1983) British economist from University of Cambridge. Robinson made important contributions to post-Keynesianism arguing for greater state involvement to overcome inequality and the failings of the free market. In 1933, she coined the term monopsony which looked at monopoly power of buyers and employers. Robinson also began work on development economics.
John Hicks (1904 – 1989) British economist. Highly influential in strengthening Keynesian macroeconomic theory through his IS-LM theory of Demand, interest rates and money supply. He also worked on consumer demand theory in micro-economics. Received the Nobel Prize in economics (1972) for his work on welfare economics and general equilibrium theory.
E.F. Schumacher (1911 – 1977) British economist. His work ‘Small is Beautiful’ a study of economics as if people mattered was influential in rethinking attitudes to economics and society. Schumacher was critical of materialist scientism and advocated giving greater importance to environment and de-centralisation. He was a pioneering economist for challenging conceptions, such as maximising national output is always good.
Paul Samuelson (1915 – 2009) American economist, whose textbooks helped explain and popularise Keynesian theory and modern macroeconomics to a wider audience. Samuelson spent most of his career at MIT, where he attracted many top economists to join. Samuelson modified elements of Keynes’ theory incorporating elements of neo-classical theory. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics (1970) for his work in improving economic methodology, as the Nobel citation reads:
“Samuelson has helped to raise the general analytical and methodological level in economic science.”
Amartya Sen, (1933) Indian economist. Awarded Nobel Prize in Economics (1993) for his work on welfare economics. Sen has dedicated much of his career to the growing branch of development economics, such as measuring living standards, social justice and wider issues of social choice theory. Sen has been referred to as the ‘conscience of economics’ for his work on gender inequality and poverty.
Muhammad Yunus (1940 – ) Bangladeshi banker and economist. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (2006) for his work in microfinance, a scheme for helping poor people to have greater access to finance at low interest rates. He developed concepts of micro-credit and micro-finance as an effective way to promote economic development.
Paul Krugman (1953 – ) American economist. Krugman is a Nobel Prize-winning economist for his work on New Trade Theory. Krugman is also a leading polemist who rose to public prominence for his attacks on the Bush Presidency. Krugman was a noted critic of austerity and leading advocate for a resurgence in Keynesian economics.
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