Joan Robinson: The Prominent Woman in the History of Economics

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One of the most influential women in economic history is Joan Robinson. She studied and promoted Keynesian theory throughout her extraordinary career and published multiple famous works that supported her innovative ideas on the topics in her field of economics. She is remembered today as one of the first great female economists with success in everything she attempted.

Joan Violet Maurice was born on October 31st of 1903 in Camberley, England, and died on August 5th in 1983 at age 79. Her father was a Major General in the British Army during WWI and apparently the two were quite close, he even lived with Joan and her husband in their house during his final years before his death. Throughout her educative life she studied at the University of Cambridge, where she met her husband, and fellow economist, Austin Robinson. She earned her degree in economics in 1925 at twenty-two years old, and soon after married Austin Robinson in 1926, changing her name to Joan Robinson. She went on to become a lecturer at Cambridge while being married to Robinson. She then entered the field of Monetary economics while still completing research and performing lectures on Keynesian theory.

Around the same time, she became a mother to two daughters, filling her world with even more responsibilities on top of focussing on the success and thriving of her career. In 1965 Robinson became a full-time professor at Girton college, teaching about monetary economics as well as supporting Keynesian theory economics. In the 1930’s Robinson shared her views and participated in the Cambridge debates, where she helped to further promote John Maynard Keynes’ economic theories and beliefs. In 1933 she published “The economics of Imperfect Competition” where she wrote about analyzing, distributing, and allocating along with the idea and concept of exploitation. Throughout her long career Robinson wrote and published multiple books and study guides structured to easily explain Keynes’ economic theory to people who don’t specialize in that field.

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Within her many works she seemed to push the Keynesian theory model beyond its theoretical frame, opening up new ways of learning and thinking about the way we practice economics. The famous economist became the first woman to be named an honorary fellow of Kings College in 1979. As Joan Robinson grew older, she became more and more interested in China and the economics they had there, comparing it to the traditional economic style that she had known for the entirety of her career. she grew to admire Mao Tse-Tung’s China and Kim II Sung’s North Korea. She travelled to China on multiple occasions, and recorded all of her observations and notes in many books throughout the years, like China: An Economic Perspective in 1958, The Cultural Revolution in China in 1969, and Economic Management in China in 1975. Robinson also published other and more popular works known as The Accumulation of Capital in 1956, Economic Philosophy in 1963, and the Introduction to Modern Economics in 1973. Her books and articles were very well known and circulated rapidly throughout the economic community. They possibly inspired other economists to pursue newer and more innovative ways to practice their profession and left a mark on the economic community.

All of her many works and published books were considered quite innovative and significant within the world of Keynesian economics, and it was ultimately believed that Robinson should have won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1975 for all of her contributions towards the world of economics as a whole. She worked hard and tirelessly throughout her career and many people believed that she deserved proper recognition for her incredible efforts, but others did not agree. She ended up losing the Nobel Prize for Economics, ultimately for being a woman within her time period. She most definitely deserved the award, but unfortunately, not everyone believed that, and sadly for all the wrong reasons. She made many positive contributions to the world of economics, specifically within the realm of Keynes’ theories and her field of monetary economics; a branch of economics that deals with framework and analyzing money as a currency and how money is seen as a convenience to the public good. She also invented the word “Monopsony” which defines a market situation in which there is just one buyer.

Joan Robinson spent most of her recorded adult life studying and working to improve the success of her career, but here are some interesting facts about the iconic economist!

After they were married, Joan and Austin Robinson spent their first two years as spouses in India where Austin tutored the Maharajah of Gwalior and Joan taught at a local school. Before Robinson passed away she was ill and in a coma for several months beforehand. Joan belonged to the “Cambridge Circus” which was just a name for a group of economists that supported John Maynard Keynes’ theories. She also facilitated a movement called “The Cambridge Capital Controversy” which attacked neoclassical views against the capital, saying it could be measured.

In conclusion, Joan Robinson was quite possibly one of the most famous and memorable female economists in history, and should be remembered as a great contributor to Keynes’ economic theory as well as a contributor to the world of economics in general. Although she was not properly honored with a Nobel Prize, she can be remembered and noticed as an innovative and influential woman of her time who helped to shape the style of economics that people study today.

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