Joan Robinson was a brilliant economist at the University of Cambridge and a member of the ‘circus’ of thinkers led by John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s. In the lecture below, John Eatwell, a pupil and co-author of Robinson, and who advised the British Labour Party on economic policy in the 1980s and 90s, gives a very clear and stimulating introduction to her life and work.
Eatwell covers topics in economics addressed by Robinson that remain highly relevant today, such as disguised unemployment and the trade protectionism that tends to result from a deflationary global economic environment.
As the talk makes clear, Robinson published path-breaking work on imperfect competition as distinct from theories of perfect competition and monopoly; she later contributed to the development of Keynes’ magnum opus The General Theory, which put forward an explanation for the persistence of mass unemployment under capitalism and gave birth to the modern discipline of macroeconomics. After the war she attempted to extend Keynes’ theory to deal with problems of economic growth in a number of books and papers, particularly her own magnum opus The Accumulation of Capital.
A strong intellectual personality and something of a zealot, one of Robinson’s most notable quotes regarding economics was: “I never learned mathematics, so I’ve had to think”.
As a liberal socialist, latterly she increasingly favoured central planning to achieve full employment and social justice, as well to promote economic development in the poorest countries. On this, as well as in her enthusiasm for Maoist China, she was perhaps naive and misled and these aspects of her thinking discredited her somewhat in her later years.
Robinson also supervised Amartya Sen who went on to win the Nobel Memorial Prize for his work on welfare economics.
Thanks to the blog The Case For Concerted Action for sharing this video.