Economics is a discipline in which there are many different competing economic theories, and most of these theories are not just inconsistent on minor issues, but fundamentally contradictory in terms of their major and most fundamental theories.
It follows as a matter of straightforward logic that many competing theories that contradict one another in fundamental ways cannot all be true, and that a great deal of them – that is, theories that are mutually incompatible – are likely to be wrong.
Modern economics begins with Adam Smith and the Classical School, which had two offshoots: (1) Marxism (which in many ways is a development of the thought of David Ricardo) and (2) neoclassical economics.
Around the 1870s, Classical theory was fundamentally reformulated and changed in the so-called marginalist revolution, the great figures of which were Alfred Marshall (1842–1924), Carl Menger (1840–1921), and Léon Walras (1834–1910).
Walras and Marshall stand out as the founders of two main neoclassical traditions. Austrian economics is an offshoot of the work of Carl Menger.
Both the economics of Marshall and Walras still stands at the heart of modern neoclassical economics, the most important theories of which are listed on the top line, and are as follows:
(1) New Classical economics;The alternative neoclassical tradition that stems from Alfred Marshall leads to probably the most important economist of the past 100 hundred years: John Maynard Keynes.
(3) New Institutionalism, and
(4) New Keynesianism.
Keynes began his career as a Marshallian neoclassical economist but by the time of his fundamental work the General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) Keynes had essentially repudiated the neoclassical paradigm (though admittedly not completely).
Important historical rivals to neoclassical economics are the German Historical School and the Old Institutionalist tradition.
The German Historical School was a major rival of both Classical and neoclassical economics, and it rise to both English and French offshoots but also fundamentally to the Old (American and European) Institutionalist tradition, which by the early 20th century had come to replace the German Historical School as the fundamental competitor to neoclassical economics.
Of course, one must realise that the Old Institutionalists did not all repudiate the neoclassical tradition, and many of them followed the Marshallian neoclassical tradition (Hodgson 2003: 463). Despite this, the Old Institutionalist school had impressive and considerable accomplishments: for example, the early work on administered prices/cost-based prices was done by Gardiner Means, an Old Institutionalist.
Old Institutionalism was a large and influential school in the United States, though not so much in Europe. However, the leading European Old Institutionalists were as follows:
(1) K. William Kapp (1910–1976);A further offshoot of Old Institutionalism was the primitivist/substantivist tradition in ancient economics, the leading figures of which were Karl Polanyi (1886–1964) and Moses I. Finley (1912–1986). Moses Finley wrote a highly influential book on the economies of ancient Greece and Rome called The Ancient Economy (1973; rev. edn. 1999), which rejects many aspects of modern neoclassical economics and is firmly in the Old Institutionalist tradition (although some of Finley’s more extreme views are no longer held even by modern Institutionalists).
(2) Gunnar Myrdal (1898–1987) and
(3) Karl Polanyi (1886–1964).
Today modern non-neoclassical Institutionalist economics continues to be an alternative to the mainstream neoclassical tradition, but it is the Post Keynesian school that arguably has done most to advance economics in the non-neoclassical tradition of John Maynard Keynes.
“Neoclassical Synthesis Keynesianism, New Keynesianism and Post Keynesianism: A Review,” July 7, 2010.
“Non-Neoclassical Institutionalism: A List of Economists,” March 13, 2014.
Davidson, P. 2005. “The Post Keynesian School,” in B. Snowdon and H. R. Vane (eds.), Modern Macroeconomics: Its Origins, Development and Current State. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham. 451–473.
Finley, Moses I. 1973. The Ancient Economy (updated edn.). University of California Press, Berkeley.
Finley, Moses I. 1999. The Ancient Economy (updated edn.). University of California Press, Berkeley.
Hodgson, Geoffrey M. 2000. “What is the Essence of Institutional Economics?,” Journal of Economic Issues 34.2: 317–329.
Hodgson, Geoffrey M. 2001. How Economics Forgot History: The Problem of Historical Specificity in Social Science. Routledge, London and New York.
Hodgson, Geoffrey M. 2003. “Postwar Heterodox Economics: Institutional Economics,” in Warren J. Samuels, (ed.). A Companion to the History of Economic Thought. Blackwell, Malden, MA. 462–470.
Samuels, Warren J. (ed.). 2003. A Companion to the History of Economic Thought. Blackwell, Malden, MA.