Historical Origins and Development of Economic Rationalism

Donald K. Gates
Macquarie University, Australia

Peter Steane
Southern Cross University, Australia

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Publicerad: 2008-03-07


ISSN: 1650-3686 (tryckt), 1650-3740 (online)


“[Economic rationalism’s] generative axiom is that the free market should determine all economic transactions”. Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek and most modern academic economists have supported the recent Australian terminological position known as ‘Economic Rationalism’ (Carroll; 1992; pp. 7 - 9). The use of `rationality’ in economic policy and practice implies a belief that economic decision-making needs to be ‘rational’ but this does not mean what many people assume viz. “sane; sensible; not foolish; absurd or extreme”.

This paper traces the development of economic theory up till ‘economic rationalism’ became a household name. At each developmental stage factors leading to changes in economic theory are examined and leading protagonists and antagonists identified. Economic systems such as Mercantilism; classical economics; marginalism and neoclassical economics are embraced.

The advance of neoclassical liberalism was subjected to strong pressure during the Great Depression and the Second World War and this led to reliance on macroeconomic theory as explained by John Maynard Keynes. An economic time line has been developed and placed in the appendix of the full paper.


Economic rationalism; neoclassical economics; classical economics; Keynesian economics; Mercantilism; liberalism or libertarianism


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