ABSTRACT

In preparing to take advantage of the profound honour which you have done me in asking me to deliver the Page-Barbour Lectures at this ancient and beautiful University, I have had to face two great dilemmas. In the first place, you have invited an economist to follow a long line of distinguished scientists, historians, art-critics, poets. You have presumably done that with your eyes open, know­ ing economics to be a drab and crabbed specialism compared with most of those which occupy the attention of learned persons and fire the imagina­ tion of the intelligent public. But how am I to respond? How am I to steer a middle course be­ tween saying what will seem trite and trivial to those among my audience who are economists and saying what will seem dreary and incomprehensible to those who are not? I cannot tell whether or not I shall succeed in finding this middle way. But I would like to utter one word of encouragement and one of warning. I think there will be only one really difficult patch in what I have to say, and that will not be reached till the fourth lecture, when any survivors there may then be will have been well broken in. On the other hand, economics is, for good

or evil, concerned with matters of greater and less, and though I am myself no mathematician or statis­ tician, I cannot altogether let you off figures, which are nasty things to look at and still nastier to listen to. I think the worst concentration of them will occur in this first lecture, and if you can survive that, the rest will in this respect be easier on the ear and on the mind.