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Who is Joan Robinson?

Our research group was named after Joan Robinson as a way to honour this brilliant Cambridge economist, who showed much interest in monetary economics, but who also dealt with and theorized about almost every other facet of economics.

She was born in 1903 and died in 1983.

Given her role in the development of economics, as well as the quality and the quantity of her published work, Joan Robinson should have been awarded the coveted Economics 'Nobel' award; but she was both a woman and an heterodox economist -- a double handicap to obtain such a recognition in the economics profession.

Robinson is well-known among orthodox colleagues for her Economics of Imperfect Competition (Macmillan, 1933), the concepts of which are still taught to first-year students of economics. Her magnum opus, which deals with the most important issues of economics, such as the determinants of growth, technical progress, the choice of technique, income distribution, is The Accumulation of Capital (Macmillan, 1956). It was shortened into a more friendly version in her Essays in the Theory of Economic Growth (Macmillan, 1962). Robinson is also known for having launched a large-scale attack against neoclassical economics in an article devoted to the production function that was published in 1953. This eventually gave rise in the 1960s and the 1970s to the so-called Cambridge capital controversies. Thus Joan Robinson is best recognized for her contributions to microeconomics, growth and capital theory.

 

However, when asked what Joan Robinson's most significant contribution had been, Frank Hahn's response, who had been both a colleague and an adversary at the University of Cambridge in England, was that her contribution was in monetary economics. Hahn (in G. Feiwell, Joan Robinson and Modern Economic Theory, Macmillan, 1989, p. 909) said that "her work on interest rates and money was excellent -- outstanding in many ways .... She wrote some splendid papers on the structure of interest rates, on liquidity preference, on the connection between monetary economics and the exchange rate, all these essays she collected in The Rate of Interest and Other Essays (1952)".

We agree with Hahn's assessment of Robinson's monetary economics. We would add that The Accumulation of Capital contains seven admirable chapters that deal with money, credit, finance, interest rates, rentiers, and banks. In these chapters, Joan Robinson shows her admirable understanding of the complexities of the financial world, and her ability to propose an innovative and comprehensive view of the links between the financial system and the macroeconomy. Our opinion is that students will learn a great deal more about money, credit and finance by reading these seven chapters than by going through standard "principles" textbooks.

 

For further analysis of Joan Robinson's outstanding contribution to monetary economics, see:

Augusto Graziani, "Money and Finance in Joan Robinson's work", in George R. Feiwel (ed.), The Economics of Imperfect Competition and Employment: Joan Robinson and Beyond, Macmillan, 1989, pp. 613-630.

Louis-Philippe Rochon, Credit, Money and Production: An Alternative Post-Keynesian Approach, Edward Elgar, 1999,
chapter 4.

 
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