Robert L. Heilbroner, who died January 4 at the age of 85, was one of a dwindling generation of professional economists who had broad humanistic curiosity and progressive values, and who wrote graceful prose for a large audience. Heilbroner was first and foremost a student of the history of economic thought. His masterwork, The Worldly Philosophers, written in 1953, was once required reading in introductory economics courses. His characterization of the great political economists was perfect: They were moral philosophers with empirical curiosity -- worldly philosophers
Heilbroner was not just their chronicler. He was one of them. His great lifelong project, with Smith, Mill, Marx, and Keynes, was to get his mind around the capitalist system and to figure out how the thing worked.
His other truly great book was a short work written in 1985, The Nature and Logic of Capitalism. Like Marx, with whom he had an intellectual love-hate relationship, Heilbroner understood capitalism as a system of social relations and political power, not just exchange. An empiricist, he had little patience for oversimplification of any kind, neither
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