chapter  10
21 Pages


It is a long-established habit of economists (and other intellectuals) to unearth precursors who can help support their claims to legitimacy. Keynes offered Malthus and the mercantilists; Jevons dredged up Dionysius Lardner and Fleeming Jenkins. Such precursors are always easy to find . As Alfred North Whitehead is supposed to have written, 'everything new has been said before by someone who didn't discover it' . The implication is that discovery is a matter not of saying something for the first time but of saying it at the right time, that is, of offering a new idea precisely when the relevant intellectual community is prepared, for whatever reasons, to accept it .l But the very idea of 'precursors ' already implies an exercise in Whig history. We can understand those who came before us only to the extent that what they had to say fits the frame of our ideas today; and to the extent that their ideas do not fit the frame, our precursors are but imperfect, albeit perhaps influential, prefigurations of what we now know to be true.2