Economic Theory, Welfare and the State: Essays in Honour of John C Weldon
Contains Bibliography, Index
Barbara Lenes McLennan is a graduate economics student in Edmonton.
This collection of essays in honor of John C. Weldon (1922–1987) was
edited by three of his McGill University colleagues. The contributors
are his former teacher, colleagues, and students. The book deals with
broad inadequacies of economic theory—mostly welfare economic
theory—with an aim to making it better reflect actual human behavior.
The work critiques accepted methods and explanations, especially the
method of freezing and simplifying time and conditions to analyze
events. Overall, the contributors aim to maintain a larger picture of
the social questions spurring their analysis. A brief academic biography
of Weldon and a list of his publications are included.
In chapters 2 and 3, Cairns, Dan Usher, and Kenneth Boulding trace
elements of welfare theory in the history of economic thought. While the
first two simply trace current perspectives back in time, Boulding
focuses on tantalizing questions: Are there aspects of economic thought
that were perceived earlier and then lost? Are there misapprehensions
that charm but do not bear fruit?
Chapters 4 to 8 discuss specific aspects of welfare theory: group (as
opposed to individual) self-interest, probability and rationality of
choice, the publicness of fiat money, the effect of private information
on trade, and the effect of import tariffs in international trade. Many
of the chapters challenge accepted theory.
Chapters 9 to 11, which examine North American economic history, turn
again to larger social issues. John Dales questions the effectiveness of
government politics in settling the Prairies, in his look at the
turn-of-the-century Canadian wheat boom. Clarence Barber discusses
whether the North American economy’s structure will precipitate
another depression, with an interesting perspective on deficits. David
Schwartzman looks for causes of the U.S. rise in unemployment since the
Chapters 12 to 14 deal with public pension theory, a particular
involvement of Weldon’s.
This book provides stimulus for further thought. Most of the
contributions are well developed and well referenced. Overt attempts to
unify the book seem strained, perhaps because of the diversity of
Weldon’s lifetime of interests. In some chapters, further tension
appears when liberal political recommendations are argued from a
conservative economic foundation. The book mentions that Weldon was
working on an opus of the analytic history of economic thought when he
died; its incompletion is a definite loss.