Ian Kumekawa, The First Serious Optimist. A. C. Pigou and the Birth of Welfare Economics [Review]

Desmarais-Tremblay, Maxime. 2018. Ian Kumekawa, The First Serious Optimist. A. C. Pigou and the Birth of Welfare Economics [Review]. History of Economic Ideas, 26(1), pp. 190-194. ISSN 1122-8792 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Arthur Cecil Pigou (1877-1959) has often been looked down by historians of economic thought as a minor conservative figure stuck between the great genius of Marshall and Keynes. This position is fading away as a surge of recent scholarship has constructed a new role for Pigou as one of the great modernisers of political economy into economics. Kumekawa’s fascinating intellectual biography of Pigou builds on this recent work done by Nahid Aslanbeigui, Karen Knight and Michael Mclure–to name just of few. Drawing on extensive archival evidence, Kumekawa does not pretend to address economic issues, but is rather interested in situating Pigou’s intellectual production in the English social and political context of the first half of the twentieth century. The reader will not be troubled with too much detailed textual analysis of Pigou, as Kumekawa brings her to a journey through Pigou’s life. Over the years, Pigou’s youthful participation in public life gave way to the recluse, and at times bitter, existence of a Cambridge don. As he was progressively rebuffed from new development in economics, he turned to new publics for his ideas, a source of comfort at the end of his life. This evolution, as Kumkawa argues, goes hand in hand with Pigou’s political transition from a reform-minded Liberal to a Labour enthusiast in his old age. As Kumekawa navigates though Pigou’ career, the reader learns about the role of professional economists at the time where the discipline was establishing its scientific status. I will summarise the argument of the book before discussing some of its historiographic deficiency concerning Pigou’s legacy.

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book review

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Institute of Management Studies


1 July 2018Published

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Date Deposited:

30 Jul 2018 12:46

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:48



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