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Scarce Means, Competing Ends: Lord Robbins and the Foundations of Contextual Economics

Sturn, Richard

Journal of Contextual Economics – Schmollers Jahrbuch, Vol. 136 (2016), Iss. 1: pp. 59–85

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Institute of Public Economics, University of Graz, Universitaetsstr. 15, 8010 Graz, Austria

Abstract

This paper analyses the role of Lord Robbins’ definition of economics (RDE) emphasizing scarcity and choice, as well as its usefulness for clarifying the foundations of contextual economics. The reasons for RDE’s appeal and some strategic benefits of its flexibility / openness are discussed, along with a brief analysis of some of the criticism which has been raised with respect to the methodological and epistemological background, notably the status of empirics, of introspective knowledge, of motifs and of value judgments. RDE is found to impose restrictions regarding contextual interdependences related to endogeneities of contract enforcement, of preferences, and of technologies. Following David Hume, scarcity moreover will be considered as a contingent contextual condition of the environment rather than an aprioristic starting point of economic analysis.

JEL Codes: A10, B13, B41