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Über dieses Buch

This book summarizes the life and work of economist Kenneth E. Boulding. Boulding was a prolific writer, teacher and Quaker. Starting his career as an orthodox Keynesian economist, he eventually adopted a transdisciplinary approach to economic topics including peace, conflict and defense, environmental problems, human betterment and evolution.



1. An Introduction to Boulding

Kenneth Ewart Boulding (1910–1993) had a charismatic personality. He published hundreds of articles and dozens of books on topics including economics, religion, peace, ecology, evolution, grants, and ethics. He also published three volumes of poetry and was a gifted painter. He grew up an only child in a working-class family in Liverpool, England. His parents were loving and devout Methodists. Boulding committed himself early in life to Christianity. Growing up during World War I had a significant impact on his beliefs. He became a pacifist at an early age. In high school, he discovered the Society of Friends (Quakers) and joined while in his first year of college at Oxford University—which influenced him both personally and professionally for the rest of his life (Boulding, 1992b, p. 73). Boulding’s humble beginnings did not limit his intellectual capabilities. He did develop in early childhood a severe stutter that remained with him the rest of his life. Regardless, he received scholarships to the best schools in Liverpool, which led to his winning a scholarship to Oxford to study chemistry. During his first year at Oxford he switched to economics.

Robert Scott

2. The Day the Liberals Won

Austere describes the upbringing of Kenneth Boulding. In his words, where he grew up would probably be considered a slum by current standards. His parents were both from working-class families. He never shied away from this characterization. He embraced his family’s working-class roots and was always sympathetic to the struggles of that class. His childhood home at Four Seymour Street was in the middle of Liverpool, England, which, in the early twentieth century, was working-class cosmopolitan. This was endearing in many ways to Boulding. His neighborhood had Jews, Belgians, Irish, and a black family. He believed that this exposure to diversity trained him well for the American melting pot he would enter early in his professional life. There was no doubt why he felt at home in America. It both suited his personality and reminded him of home. Before delving into the specifics on Boulding’s life, it is necessary to better understand his family background—to dig into the roots of his family tree and see what genetic commingling led to his life.

Robert Scott

3. Mr. Boulding and the Americans

Kenneth Boulding’s Atlantic crossing on the SS Laconia en route to the University of Chicago had at least one unintended effect on his time in America. By happenstance, Professor Joseph A. Schumpeter from Harvard University was traveling on the same ship. Since the trip took nine days they became well acquainted. Boulding had a copy of his Oxford thesis, which Schumpeter took the time to read and they discussed at length. That thesis was lost at some point, which Boulding suggested was of no great loss to the profession. Schumpeter convinced Boulding to visit him at Harvard while he was in the United States. On his way to Chicago, Boulding traveled through New York and westward through Indiana. He was surprised by the forested landscape of America since his impression of the country came largely from cowboy movies.

Robert Scott

4. Cosmogenesis

This chapter covers Kenneth Boulding’s most creative (and possibly productive) period of his life. From 1949 to 1967, Boulding wrote (or edited) 11 books and 187 articles. In addition, he wrote a dozen articles for Quaker publications. Even more important than the amount he wrote was the originality and breadth of subjects on which he wrote. While at the University of Michigan, Boulding helped found the Society for General Systems Research, the Center for Research on Conflict Resolution, and the Journal of Conflict Resolution. More important, his attempt to formulate a General Theory of Conflict and Defense and his involvement with the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University marked the beginning of Boulding’s formal study of peace research. His article “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth” (1966) was written at a time when economists were not focused on environmental issues, such as sustainability. Spaceship Earth serves as a precursor and foundation to modern ecological economics—and it is as relevant today as when he wrote it. On a personal note, Michigan is where Boulding and Elise raised their five children and further planted their Quaker roots. Also, Elise, who received her master’s degree in sociology right before leaving Iowa, also started (and eventually completed a couple years after leaving Michigan) her PhD in sociology.

Robert Scott

5. Where the Buffalo Roam

Kenneth Boulding spent most of the rest of his 26 years in Boulder, Colorado. The first 13 years he spent as professor of economics connected to the Institute of Behavioral Science at the University of Colorado at Boulder. These were good, productive years and are the focus of this chapter. He did not necessarily have the same level of inspiration at the University of Colorado as he did at the University of Michigan, but his years at the University of Colorado are marked by a few important advancements in his thinking. First, he continued his work on conflict and peace. He refined his thinking and, with the help of his wife, Elise, developed a more well-rounded theory of peace. Second, he created what he called grants economics. Once his grants economics was well defined, Boulding could complete his bigger picture of the social system. Third, he developed his evolutionary economics that fit within the institutional economic framework. At the same time, Boulding helped finance the Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, which began circulation in 1978, and was on their editorial board for many years. The end of this chapter speculates on the degree to which Boulding falls into the Institutionalist and Post Keynesian schools of economic thought.

Robert Scott

6. A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

Boulding found freedom in his new role as emeritus professor starting in the middle of 1980. The final 13 years of his life were productive and he felt at home in Colorado (more so than any other place he had lived in the United States). He believed the 1980s was perhaps the most productive decade of his life (Boulding, 1992b, p. ix). This decade, however, was about more than simply increased production of output. The quality and depth of his work during this time may have been some of his best. Part of this late creative fervor was likely the result of being 70 years old and free from the confines of both university life and professional obligations. Having already served as president of the American Economic Association and only lacking a Nobel Prize for accomplishments in economics, Boulding was freer than at any other time to let his thoughts flow. Arguably, this freedom had been building since his time at the University of Michigan when he became a rogue economist writing on topics and in a style that were too broad for the mainstream to accept (or much acknowledge). But the tone of his books and articles during his last years were more forward-thinking than his earlier work. Whereas his textbook Economic Analysis (1941a) and other books such as Ecodynamics (1978a) and Conflict and Defense (1962) were compilations of his articles and espoused theories and models about how the world functioned at those times, these later works were more about the future: issues of human betterment, power, and moderation.

Robert Scott

7. Boulding’s Place in Economic History

Kenneth Boulding was a renaissance intellectual with varied interests, as presented in this book. Borrowing Robert Heilbroner’s phrase, Boulding was a worldly philosopher, but also a moral philosopher. Boulding did not work within one school of economic thought. He was always a disciple of Keynes, but he also branched out into institutional economics, behavioral economics, ecological economics, Post Keynesian economics, and others. Boulding was critical of neoclassical economics early in his career. For example, he admonished neoclassical economists for adopting a positivist approach to economic analysis and ignoring the normative elements of economic issues. Today, ethics in economics is a hotly debated issue, and there is still significant resistance to recognizing that economic inquiries are not value-free. As early as the 1930s, Boulding (1932; 1934) dismissed neoclassical economics’ theories of utility maximization, profit maximization, and marginal productivity. Boulding saw himself as a modern political philosopher who was primarily concerned with the well-being of people (humanomics). Boulding’s methods went against the grain of mainstream/neoclassical economics, and arguably still do today. In part, because of Boulding’s nonconformity and concern for social issues, much of his work had originality and emotion. But stepping back and looking at Boulding’s entire research output reveals two areas where he was especially prescient and original: First, his work on peace and conflict resolution; and second, his metaphorical Spaceship Earth as an argument for sustainability and controlling rampant consumption and economic growth.

Robert Scott


When the global Great Recession began in 2008, there was outrage among people that economists had lost touch with reality and that the field of economics had failed. A dogmatic worshipping of free markets and minimal government intervention had blindsided much of the profession. Many people are now asking whether economics can shed its dogmatism and become useful again at explaining reality. Kenneth Boulding is proof that it can. His work stands in stark contrast to the mainstream neoclassical methodology adopted by most economists. For his efforts, Boulding was labeled a heretic and largely ostracized by the profession. Boulding was little bothered by these characterizations. Yet, this may be one reason why, until now, a complete biography of Boulding’s work has not been written. Boulding never reached the level of notoriety of Frederich von Hayek or Milton Friedman, not because his work lacked originality or insight, but rather because his sharp divergence from mainstream thinking left him on an island unto himself. And his breadth of thinking made many of his works too theoretical for empirical analysis, which is de rigueur for economics. Perhaps now this book can encourage more people to read Boulding’s writings and begin moving economics and society in a better, more sustainable, more ethical, and more peaceful direction.

Robert Scott


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