Ian Kumekawa

Oct 5, 2020

The First Serious Optimist

A. C. Pigou and the Birth of Welfare Economics

Princeton University Press 2017

The work of Alfred Cecil Pigou may not be as well known to people today as that of his contemporary John Maynard Keynes, but as Ian Kumekawa details in his book The First Serious Optimist: A. C. Pigou and the Birth of Welfare Economics (Princeton University Press, 2017), over the course of his long career Pigou advanced ideas that remain very relevant today. As Kumekawa describes, Pigou entered the field of economics at an important point in its evolution. As a student of Alfred Marshall, Pigou embraced his mentor’s more analytical approach to the subject, though without the same determination to separate it from political theory. This placed Pigou at the center of many of the issues of economics that the public faced in the early 20th century, to which Pigou contributed widely, particularly in the area of welfare economics. Pigou’s own ideas on these subjects evolved in response to his experiences with events, as he shifted from his early reform-minded liberalism to skepticism about the motivations of political leaders before he embraced once more the possibility of meaningful political change in the aftermath of the Second World War.

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