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Kenneth Boulding (1910 – 1993)


Economist, educator, poet, religious mystic, devoted Quaker, systems scientist and interdisciplinary philosopher.
Kenneth Boulding
There is reason for this shift of emphasis from any actual price to a hypothetical 'equilibrium' price. It is usually more interesting to know where a train is going than to know exactly where it is at any moment. The 'equilibrium' position of any price, wage, firm, industry, or system is the position toward which it is tending. The importance of equilibrium analysis, then, is that it enables us to discuss the directions of change. If a train is in New- York and its 'equilibrium' position is in Chicago, we are reasonably confident that the general direction of its motion will be westward, even if it unaccountably decides to travel north for the first hundred and fifty miles.
Boulding quotes
It is probable that when future historians of economic thought look back over this century, the thirties will appear as an era of rapid development in economic theory. Not only has there been unusual activity in monetary theory, theory of value. but extensive transformations have also been made in the basic theory of value. The outstanding publications in this field are, of course, Joan Robinson's Theory of Imperfect Competition and Chamberlin's Theory of Monopolistic Competition, the first produced in Cambridge, England, and the second in Cambridge, Massachusetts. These volumes mark the explicit recognition of the theory of the firm as an integral division of economic analysis upon which rests the whole fabric of equilibrium theory. General equilibrium is nothing more than the problem of the interaction of individual economic organisms, under various conditions and assumptions; as a necessary preliminary to its solution, an adequate theory of the individual organism itself is necessary.
Boulding
The controversy as to whether socialism is possible has been settled by the fact that it exists, and it is a fundamental axiom of my philosophy, at any rate, that anything that exists, is possible.




Boulding Kenneth quotes
...the perception of potential threats to survival may be much more important in determining behavior than the perceptions of potential profits, so that profit maximization is not really the driving force. It is fear of loss rather than hope of gain that limits our behavior
Boulding Kenneth
[The consumer is] the supreme mover of economic order... for whom all goods are made and towards whom all economic activity is directed.
Kenneth Boulding quotes
Don't go to great trouble to optimize something that never should be done at all. Aim to enhance total systems properties, such as creativity, stability, diversity, resilience, and sustainability–whether they are easily measured or not.
Kenneth Boulding
The success of Japanese development is due simply to the fact that Japan devoted a substantial portion of its resources to the growth industry, and particularly to the human resources and then commended Max Weber's emphasis on hard work and thrift.
All the law and the prophets of economic development can be summed up in the old proverb that "where there's a will there's a way". The way indeed is absurdly easy and is well known. It consists merely in putting resources into growth. What could be simpler and easier! the problem however, is the will, and this. I think, we understand very little. The whole cultural milieu of society plays a role in the process of developing its will, and it is hard to separate the determining factors. A widespread puritan ethic, as Max Weber pointed out, is undoubtedly an asset, if this leads people to place a high value on hard work and thrift. On the other hand, puritanism often goes along with a resistance to social change and an unwillingness to innovate outside a narrow field of technology, and thrift alone can often lead to uncreative forms of accumulation or even to unemployment and depression. Mere accumulation is not enough. Economic development does not consist merely in the piling up of things, but in the accumulation of new kinds of things.
Boulding Kenneth quotes
There is something, however humble, which can properly be called skill among those who recognise themselves as economists.
Boulding
My first acquaintance with the work of Dr. Fred Polak came in the year 1954—5, when we were both fellows at the new Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. Dr. and Mrs. Polak lived in a little house at the back of the garden of the house that the Bouldings rented and participated very cheerfully in the life of the Bouldings and their four young children. Many exciting things came out of that year at Stanford, such as the Society for General Systems Research and the Journal of Conflict Resolution. But looking back on the expérience after nearly twenty years, I think the most important impact on the thought of both Elise Boulding and myself were the many conversations that we had with the Polaks around the dining table and in the garden.
Boulding Kenneth
A distinction does not have to be clear to be important, and, at some point, there is a common-sense dividing line between procedural and violent conflict. Violence is most closely associated with conquest as a form of conflict settlement, though violence is descriptive of a conflict process rather than of a conflict settlement. It is quite possible, for instance, for conquest to be nonviolent, that is, for one party to be absorbed in another or for one organization to be dissolved by strictly procedural means. Departments are organized out of existence, countries are federated or united, organizations are laid down, and firms are bankrupted by purely procedural processes, without more than perhaps a trace of legal coercion lurking in the background.
Kenneth Boulding
Any attempt to reduce the complex properties of biological organisms or of nervous systems or of human brains to simple physical and chemical systems is foolish.




Kenneth Boulding quotes
My father, William C. Boulding, was a working plumber in business for himself. At the back of the house was the yard, a corrugated iron shed full of pipes, wrenches, and blow torches, and other mysterious and rather frightening apparatus. He had two faithful employees, Billy Fox, who was moody and regarded as a little queer, and Billy Sankey, who was short and cheerful. They and my father always smelled strongly of some kind of grease. My father was a gentle man. I never I never heard his voice raised in anger. He had had a very hard childhood. His father died soon after he was born; his mother married again, a man known in the family legends as "Pa Hardacre," about whom endless stories were told. He was a bigamist. He drove my father out of the house at the age of twelve to earn his own living on the streets of Liverpool. He constantly mistreated my half-aunts, Ethel and Rosie. He died before I was born, but my mother's accounts of him sounded like something out of Dickens.
Kenneth Boulding
Boulding was not left-wing in his politics nor involved in the radical economics of the time. In fact he was always hostile to Marx’s theory of capitalism and its emphasis on class conflict. What he did feel strongly about was the cause of peace, having become a Quaker early in life, and having been active throughout his career in a variety of ways in the cause of peace. Moreover, he himself saw peace and conflict research as his largest area of work (Boulding, 1989), and regarded his involvement in the founding of the Journal of Conflict Resolution and the International Peace Research Association as important lifetime achievements.
Boulding quotes
The only religion that still demands human sacrifice is nationalism.
Boulding Kenneth
[This book] is intended as a text from which the student can learn and the [[teacher] can teach the methods and results of economic analysis. It also seeks to be a contribution to the development and systematization of the body of economic analysis itself. These purposes are not separate. The task of presenting a systematic, orderly, and accurate account of economic analysis is identical with the task of preparing the material for teaching. It must be emphasized, however, that the purpose of this work is not primarily to entertain the student, or to enable him to regurgitate appropriate material into examination books, or to learn a few pat phrases, or to indoctrinate him with an abstract discipline which he will never use. Economics is like photography in this respect, that under-exposure is less desirable than no exposure at all.
Boulding Kenneth quotes
If a totally new image is to come into being however, there must be sensitivity to internal messages, the image itself must be sensitive to change, must be unstable, and it must include a value image which places high value on trials, experiments, and the trying of new things.
Kenneth Boulding
[Boulding's belief in] the immediate experience of the Holy Spirit, or Inward Light, available to every man to teach, guide, reprove, and draw him up toward goodness.
Kenneth Boulding quotes
A distinguished economist, on being asked to define the subject matter of his science, once replied, "Economics is what economists do."
Kenneth Boulding
The social dynamics of human history, even more than that of biological evolution, illustrate the fundamental principle of ecological evolution - that everything depends on everything else. The nine elements that we have described in societal evolution of the three families of phenotypes - the phyla of things, organizations and people, the genetic bases in knowledge operating through energy and materials to produce phenotypes, and the three bonding relations of threat, integration and exchange - all interact on each other.
Boulding Kenneth
The world moves into the future as a result of decisions, not as a result of plans. Plans are significant only insofar as they affect decisions.


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