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The Woman Who Shattered the Myth of the Free Market

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The Woman Who Shattered the Myth of the Free Market

The New York Times,

5 min read
3 take-aways
Audio & text

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In the 1930s, one woman challenged economic orthodoxy.

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On a list of influential economists throughout history – Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman, to name a few – Joan Robinson is conspicuously absent. But in 1933, Robinson published a milestone text that upended the major economic tenets of the time and still resonates today. Financial journalist Zachary D. Carter illuminates Robinson’s extraordinary work and the indelible mark she left on economics. Readers will discover a pioneering thinker in this compelling essay.


Joan Robinson established her economics bona fides at Cambridge University. 

At the beginning of the 20th century, the theories of Cambridge scholar Alfred Marshall dominated the economic narrative of the time. Those precepts posited that markets were continually evolving toward a state of perfect competition and that they naturally achieved equilibrium in supply and demand. As a result, consumers benefit by enjoying better goods and prices as companies compete against their peers, and in the labor market, employers and workers reach a balance on wages. Marshall argued that competition and supply-and-demand equilibrium are the natural order, and that deviations from the norm...

About the Author

Zachary D. Carter is the author of The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes.

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