Profile Major Works Resources

Jacob Viner, 1892-1970.

Portrait of J. Viner

Together with Knight, the Canadian-born Jacob Viner was the leading light of the Chicago School of the inter-war period. His work ranged all over economics, but it is perhaps his work on the history of economic thought and international trade theory that we find his remarkable strengths. Nonetheless, as Robbins characterized him, Viner was "the outstanding all-rounder of his time in our profession" (Robbins, 1970: p.2).  

Born in Montreal, Canada, Jacob Viner obtained his B.A. from McGill in 1914, and his Ph.D. from  Harvard in 1922, under Frank Taussig   Although an instructor since 1916, Viner formally joined the faculty at the University of Chicago in 1925, where he remained until 1946, when he moved to Princeton.

Jacob Viner's very first publication was on methodology (1917), in which he provided a full-fledged defense of the inductive method. His subsequent work was on problems in trade theory - a concern which he maintained throughout the rest of his career.  In International trade, Viner is notable for his work on dumping (1922, 1923) and the "trade diversion" thesis on customs unions (1950).

This work was concurrent with his masterly 1921 and 1931 articles on price theory - the first began inching towards a theory of imperfect competition, the second providing an analytical and graphical exposition of the theory of the firm (the long-run and short-run cost curves we see in modern principles textbooks). A famous error on the long-run envelope of short-run average cost curves in his 1931 article and anticipation by Harrod did not diminish his claim to fame.

Jacob Viner was fiercely opposed to the Keynesian Revolution - but not because of its policy prescriptions as indeed, Viner himself had recommended them. As he wrote in several papers (e.g. 1933), Viner believed the Great Depression was due to deflation in output prices being faster than the collapse in costs. Recovery, he believed, required a restoration of profit margins and thus government-induced inflation - not by monetary expansion, but rather by deficit spending. This would create the necessary price rise (and, with costs lagging, profits) and the consequent cumulative rise in output to pull the economy out of depression. He was very much a fiscal policy advocate and a believer in policy discretion rather than fixed rules - thus he did not take Milton Friedman's attempt to paint him as an "early Monetarist" very well.

Viner's famous 1936 critique of Keynes was not over policy implications but rather a result of theoretical disputes over liquidity preference and what Viner thought was oversimplified theory of effective demand.  Viner preferred to famously characterize Keynesian theory as "short-run" analysis while considering Neoclassical theory to be true in the "long-run". It was Viner's scathing 1936 critique that prompted J.M. Keynes to write his famous 1937 QJE article as a response.

Viner's work on ithe history of economic thought began with his 1926 essay on Adam Smith and culminated in his magnum opus, Studies in the Theory of International Trade (1937) - to which we owe most of our knowledge of the Bullionist Controversy in 19th Century Britain - and the masterful introduction to the 1965 reprint of Rae's Life of Adam Smith.

Viner's relations with Knight were cool but respectful. Compared to Knight, Viner was less opposed to quantitative techniques but remained wary of them. A recurring, if pointless, amusement at Chicago was the controversy over cost theory between Knight and Viner - with Knight supporting the Austrian doctrine of opportunity cost and Viner espousing the Marshallian "real cost" theory. This position was, in fact, more than a personal diversion: Viner (1932, 1937), after all, had promoted a "real cost" version of the comparative advantage thesis as opposed to Haberler's "opportunity cost" version or Ohlin's "factor-endowment" version.

Despite being one of the leaders of the Chicago School, Viner left Chicago for Princeton in 1946 - perhaps to the relief of many Chicago first-year students: Viner's "price theory" course was notorious for the terrifying way in which he conducted the classroom discussion. In later years, when questioned as to whether he thought himself part of the Chicago School, his reply was unequivocal:

"I am willing to consider the existence of a `Chicago School' (but not one confined to the economics department and not embracing all of the department) and that this `School' had been in operation, and had won many able disciples, for years before I left Chicago. But at no time was I consciously a member of it, and it is my vague impression that if there was such a school it did not regard me as a member, or at least as a loyal and qualified member" (Letter to Patinkin, Nov. 24, 1969).

Although he missed the Nobel awards, Viner was awarded the American Economic Association prestigious Francis A. Walker Medal in 1962 - the economics' profession's Nobel equivalent prior to 1969.  



top1.gif (924 bytes)Top

Major works of Jacob Viner

  • "Some Problems of Logical Method in Political Economy", 1917, JPE, p.236 [js, av][lib, lib]
  • "Who Paid for the War?", 1920, JPE [js, av]
  • "Must the United States as a Creditor Nation Modify Its Traditional Attitude toward a Protective Tariff?", 1921, AAPSS [js, av]
  • "Price Policies: the determination of market price", 1921, in L.C. Marshall, editor, Business Administration
  • "The Prevalence of Dumping in International Trade I, 1922, JPE [av]
  • "The Prevalence of Dumping in International Trade II, 1922, JPE [av]
  • "Dumping as a Method of Competition in International Trade I, 1922, Univ Journal of Business [av]
  • "Dumping as a Method of Competition in International Trade II, 1923, Univ Journal of Business
  • Dumping: A problem in international trade, 1923.
  • Canada's Balance of International Indebtedness: 1900- 1913, 1924.
  • "The Utility Concept in Value Theory and its Critics", 1925, JPE.
  • "Adam Smith and Laissez-Faire", 1927, JPE [pdf]
  • "The Present Status and Future Prospects of Quantitative Economics", 1928, AER
  • "Mills' Behavior of Prices", 1929, QJE
  • "Costs Curves and Supply Curve", 1931, ZfN.
  • "The Doctrine of Comparative Costs", 1932, WWA
  • "Inflation as a Possible Remedy for the Depression", 1933, Proceedings of Institute of Public Affairs, Univ. of Georgia
  • "Mr. Keynes and the Causes of Unemployment", 1936, QJE. [pdf]
  • Studies in the Theory of International Trade, 1937. [lib, lib, mis]
  • "Marshall's Economics, in Relation to the Man and to his Times", 1941, AER
  • Trade Relations Between Free-Market and Controlled Economies, 1943.
  • "International Relations between State-Controlled National Economies", 1944, AER.
  • "Prospects for Foreign Trade in the Post-War World", 1946, Manchester Statistical Society.
  • "Power Versus Plenty as Objectives of Foreign Policy in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries", 1948, World Politics [pdf]
  • "Bentham and J.S. Mill: the Utilitarian Background", 1949, AER
  • The Customs Union Issue, 1950.
  • A Modest Proposal for Some Stress on Scholarship in Graduate Training, 1950 [HET, pdf]
  • International Economics, 1951.
  • International Trade and Economic Development, 1952.
  • "Review of Schumpeter's History of Economic Analysis", 1954, AER
  • "`Fashion' in Economic Thought", 1957, Report of 6th Conference of Princeton Graduate Alumni
  • "International Trade Theory and its Present-Day Relevance", 1955, Economics and Public Policy
  • The Long View and the Short: Studies in economic theory, 1958.
  • "Stability and Progress: the poorer countries' problem", 1958, in Hague, editor, Stability and Progress in the World Economy
  • Five Lectures on Economics and Freedom, 1959 (Wabash Lectures, pub. 1991)
  • "The Intellectual History of Laissez-Faire", 1960, J Law Econ
  • "Hayek on Freedom and Coercion", 1960, Southern EJ
  • "Relative Abundance of the Factors and International Trade", 1962, Indian EJ
  • "The Necessary and Desirable Range of Discretion to be Allowed to a Monetary Authority", 1962, in Yeager, editor, In Search of a Monetary Constitution
  • "Progressive Individualism as Original Sin", 1963, Canadian J of Econ & Poli Sci
  • "The Earlier Letters of John Stuart Mill", 1963, Univ of Toronto Quarterly
  • "The Economist in History", 1963, AER
  • "The United States as a Welfare State", 1963, in Higgenbotham, editor, Man, Science, Learning and Education
  • Problems of Monetary Control, 1964.
  • "Comment on my 1936 Review of Keynes", 1964, in Lekachman, editor, Keynes's General Theory
  • "Introduction", in J. Rae, Life of Adam Smith, 1965. [lib]
  • "Adam Smith", 1968, in Sills, editor, International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences
  • "Mercantilist Thought", 1968, in Sills, editor, International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences
  • "Man's Economic Status", 1968, in Clifford, editor, Man Versus Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain.
  • "Satire and Economics in the Augustan Age of Satire", 1970, in Miller et al, editors, The Augustan Milieu
  • The Role of Providence in the Social Order, 1972.
  • Religious Thought and Economic Society, 1978.
  • Essays on the Intellectual History of Economics, 1991.
  • Lectures in Economics 301, (wr. 1930, pub. 2013, ed. D.A. Irwin & S.A. Medema) [prev]




top1.gif (924 bytes)Top

Resources on Jacob Viner

  • Guide to Jacob Viner papers at Princeton [online]
  • "Jacob Viner, 1892-1970" by Lionel Robbins, Eugenio Gudin and Diego Nogueira, 1971 Revista Brasileira de Economia [pdf]
  • "Jacob Viner on Religion and Intellectual History" by Paul Oslington [pdf]
  • "Contextual History, Practitioner History and Classic Status: Reading Jacob Vinerís The Customs Union Issue" by Paul Oslington [pdf]
  • "Jacob Vinerís Reminiscences from the New Deal (February 11, 1953)" by Luca Fiorito and Sebastiano Nerozzi, 2008 [pdf]
  • Jacob Viner entry in the Princeton Companion
  • Jacob Viner page at LibertyFund
  • Viner entry at Concise Encycl of Economics, LibertyFund (1st ed, 2nd ed.)
  • Viner page at Mises Institute
  • Viner page at
  • Viner entry at Britannica
  • Wikipedia


top1.gif (924 bytes)Top

All rights reserved, GonÁalo L. Fonseca