Course Abstract


The Development of Economic Ideas: How We Got Here from There


    J.M. Keynes remarked that “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” The goal of this course is to examine the works of those who have brought the social science of economics to its current state. On the way we will navigate between the Scylla of excruciating detail and the Charybdis of overly casual commentary. Readings will range from Economics Lite (but meaningful) to more Industrial-Strength (but readable) expositions. Previous knowledge of economics is not necessary.


    We will start with “pre-economic” thought (Mercantilism and  Physiocracy), then discuss the early development of Political Economy. Our actors will be Adam Smith, Richard Malthus, David Ricardo, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes, all “Big-Thinkers”-- macroeconomists who addressed the dynamics of capitalist economies. We then turn to the modern libertarian economists (F.A. von Hayek and Milton Friedman), who bring us full circle back to Adam Smith. Time allowing, we will discuss F.Y Edgeworth, John Stuart Mill, and Alfred Marshall, who established the formal foundations of modern microeconomics.


    The seminar will meet from 1:30pm-3:30pm on the six Wednesdays beginning on September 19 and ending on October 24.


     Information on the course, including instructor’s notes, can be found at Send email to if you have any questions or observations.



Peter Fortune received his B.A. in economics from Indiana University (1967) and his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University (1972). He was a member of the faculties at Harvard (1973-77) and at Tufts University (1977-1995). At Tufts he served as chairman of the economics department. From 1995 until his retirement in 2005 he served as Senior Economist and Advisor to the Director of Research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. He continues to serve as a Visiting Scholar at the Boston Fed. His work has been in the fields of macroeconomics, municipal finance, and financial economics.





                                                                                                     Syllabus     Resources     Economic Comedy