Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 25 No. 3 (Summer 2011)


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Retrospectives: Hume on Money, Commerce, and the Science of Economics

Article Citation

Schabas, Margaret, and Carl Wennerlind. 2011. "Retrospectives: Hume on Money, Commerce, and the Science of Economics." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 25(3): 217-30.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.25.3.217


David Hume (1711-1776) is arguably the most esteemed philosopher to have written in the English language. During his lifetime, however, Hume was as well if not better known for his contributions to political economy, particularly for the essays published as the Political Discourses (1752). Hume left his mark on the economic thought of the physiocrats, the classical economists, and the American Federalists. Adam Smith, who met Hume circa 1750, was his closest friend and interlocutor for some 25 years. Among modern economists, Hume's essays on money and trade have informed theorists of both Keynesian and Monetarist persuasions. In this essay, we begin by discussing Hume's monetary economics, and then spell out his theory of economic development, noting his qualified enthusiasm for the modern commercial system. We end with an assessment of his views on the scientific standing of economics, specifically his counterintuitive argument that economics could be epistemologically superior to physics.

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Schabas, Margaret (U British Columbia)
Wennerlind, Carl (Barnard College, Columbia U)

JEL Classifications

B41: Economic Methodology
E40: Money and Interest Rates: General
B11: History of Economic Thought: Preclassical (Ancient, Medieval, Mercantilist, Physiocratic)
B31: History of Economic Thought: Individuals


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