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Choosing what to study

Top ten most influential economists

The economy has a huge impact on the quality of our lives. Here’s a timeline of some of the most influential economists in history.

Milton Friedman

Adam Smith (1723–1790)

You may recognise Adam Smith on the back of your £20 note. Educated at the University of Glasgow at the age of 14, he went on to pioneer political economy and is now deemed the ‘Father of Modern Economics’. Best known for his book The Wealth of Nations, Smith argued for free trade, market competition and the morality of private enterprise. The book still forms the foundation for economic policies around the world.

Alfred Marshall (1842–1924)

You may not know him by name, but you'll almost certainly recognise one of the theories Alfred Marshall is noted for working on: supply and demand. Marshall wasn't the first economist to refer to the phenomenon, but he's widely attributed with creating its graphical representation and developing the model further. He wrote the book Principles of Economics, which was the primary economic text used in England for numerous years.

Millicent Fawcett (1847–1929)

The name behind the UK’s Fawcett Society, Millicent Fawcett was a feminist, women’s rights campaigner and economist. Fawcett focused more on the political rather than the scientific area of economics, and in 1870 wrote the book Political Economy for Beginners. The tenth edition was released 40 years later, and is still culturally important today.

John Maynard Keynes (1883–1946)

UK economist John Maynard Keynes argued against the long-held view that free markets would automatically provide full employment, spearheading a revolution in economic thinking. He proposed that state intervention is needed during boom-and-bust cycles of the economy, a policy adopted by most western economies during the 1930s. This went out of fashion by the 1970s, but the world still looks to Keynesian policy during economic crises.

Milton Friedman (1912–2006)

Milton Friedman, an avid supporter and proponent of free markets, was educated at Rutgers University, the University of Chicago and Columbia University. Awarded the 1976 Nobel Prize for Economics, he's most notable for his work on consumption analysis, monetary history and theory, and stabilisation policy. Despite his achievements, Friedman polarises opinion with many attributing the rise of conservatism in America during Reagan’s presidency to his policies.

W. Arthur Lewis (1915–1991)

Sir William Arthur Lewis was a Saint Lucian economist who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1979 alongside Theodore W. Schultz. The prize was in honour of his work towards the study of economic development and the transfer of labour from traditional to modern capitalist sectors. He published one of the first academic works in the area, along with 11 further books and over 80 articles and monographs.

Warren Buffett (1930–)

Not an economist by trade but by education, Warren Buffett earned his master’s degree in the field at Columbia University. Buffett joined a Wall Street investment firm, where he applied a statistical and methodical approach to trading. He's widely considered the most successful investor of the 20th century and is consistently ranked within the top ten of the world’s richest people. 

Elinor Ostrom (1933–2012)

The first woman to win a Nobel Prize in Economics, Elinor Ostrom is a trailblazer for her work in New Institutional Economics and the revival of political economy. The prize was shared with Oliver E. Williamson and was awarded for their analysis of economic governance. Ostrom’s work centred around local property and how it can be well-managed by local commons without the need for privatisation.

Dambisa Moyo (1969–)

Zambian-born economist Dambisa Moyo focuses on wealth and poverty in the global economy. A key critic on development aid for low-income economies, her work has earned her the Friedrich Hayek Institute’s lifetime achievement award. Her book Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa is one of the best-selling books in the area of development aid.

Esther Duflo (1972–)

Ester Duflo also uses her economic education and experience to help alleviate poverty. The French-American economist won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2019, alongside Abhijit Banerjee and Michael Kremer. It was in honour of their work in development economics in global poverty, where their methods have become standard. Duflo was the youngest person and the second woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics

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