Talking About a Revolution

The search for better economic policy.
Aug. 19 1999 3:30 AM

Talking About a Revolution

How the late Kelvin Lancaster helped transform economics.

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Alas, golden ages do end. By the early 1990s, the thrill of increasing-returns economics was fading. It wasn't just the inexorable working of the law of diminishing disciples. There was a deeper problem: The new ideas were immensely liberating, but at some point you can get too liberated. In international trade, people started to joke that a smart graduate student could come up with a model to justify any policy; similar sentiments were felt in many fields. In short, we all got tired of clever analyses of what might happen; and throughout economics there was a shift in focus away from theorizing, toward data collection and careful statistical analysis.

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But it was a golden age--a time of innovation and intellectual excitement, when all of economics seemed up for reinvention--and Kelvin Lancaster was one of those who made it so. Let us honor his memory.

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