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Chicago. Economics From an Institutional Standpoint. Knight c.1934

Frank Knight’s teaching at Chicago covered four bases: core economic theory, the history of economics, social control of the economy and institutional economics. 

One truly can’t fault 1930’s Chicago economics for failing to be aware of the surrounding disciplines. On the other side of the political spectrum we witness the same breadth in Paul Douglas’ 1938 course, Types of Economic Organization.

The following course outline is out of place in the folder for Econ 304 in the Homer Jones Papers. Note that the “general alphabetical bibliography” mentioned in the outline was not in this folder.   The copy of the outline transcribed below apparently came from Homer Jones’ classmate, A.H. = “Alice Hanson”,  later his wife.

Milton Friedman’s 1976 remembrance of Homer Jones was reprinted in the St. Louis Fed’s Review November/December 2013, 95(6), pp. 451-54.


 Course Description

305. Economics from an Institutional Standpoint.—The relations between the classical-mathematical and institutional-historical views of economic phenomena; institutional factors as the framework and much of the content of the price economy; late nineteen century economic society as a complex of structural forms. Prerequisite: Economics 301 and some European economic history. C. 10:00, Knight.

Source:   Course description from the University of Chicago’s Announcement of courses for Summer Quarter 1934


[ penciled addition:] A. H. (n.d.)

Economics 305
Economics from Institutional Standpoint

Main Topics and Notes on Literature
(To be used with general, alphabetical bibliography)

I. American Institutional Economics

1. Veblen, Th. (Perhaps the one true example, except Handman, who has written little.)

a. The Place of Science in Civilization. (1919) Collected Essays. “Why is Economics not an Evolutionary Science,” 3rd paper, contains most of Veblen’s position. For his criticism of classical economics, especially “Professor Clark’s Economics” and “Limitations of Marginal Utility”; also three papers on “Presuppositions of Economic Science.” For V’s positive contribution, the title essay and second, on “Evolution of the Scientific Point of View” most important, to be followed with “Industrial and Pecuniary Employments,” “Gustav Schmoller’s Economics” and papers on Capital, Marx, and Socialism.

b. Economics in the Visible Future. A.E.R., 1925 (Cf. Discussion of J. M. Clark).

c. Other works: Instinct of Workmanship, Theory of the Leisure Class, and Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution most important. Theory of Business Enterprise social-critical, on line of Industrial and Pecuniary Employments. Later books (Nature of Peace, Higher Culture in America, Vested Interests, Engineers and Price System, Absentee Ownership, etc.) More satirical, and literary or controversial in appeal.

2. Handman, M. S.

3. Commons, J. R., Legal Economist. (Laws are not institutional in origin, but become institutions if long kept in force).

a. Legal Foundations of Capitalism. (Cf. Reviews, Mitchell, A.E.R., June, 1924 and Scharfman, Q.J.E., 1924-5.

b. “Institutional Economics,” A.E.R., Dec. 1931. (Corres. Regarding same, ibid., June, 1932.)

4. Mitchell, W. C. (Quantitative or statisticial economist, properly at opposite pole from institutionalism, but usually included in the movement. Has, like most economists, written some things of a really institutionalist character

a. “Quantitative Method in Economics” (Presidential Address) A.E.R., 1925. (His main position: not institutionalistic).

b. “Prospects of Economics.” (Leading Essay) in Tugwell, The Trend of Economics. (Institutional only in sense of being more or less critical of the older classical economists).

c. “The Role of Money in Economic Theory” (Institutional) A.E.R. 1916 Sup.; “The Backward Art of Spending Money.” A.E.R., 1912. “Human Behavior in Economics.”….Rev. of Sombart, Q.J.E. 1928-9; Bentham’s Felecific Calculus, P.S.Q., June, 1918.

d. On Mitchell’s main work on Business Cycles, see review by J. M. Clark, in Rice’s Case-Book, with Mitchell’s comment.

5. Copeland, Clark, Hale, Mills, Tugwell, Wolfe, etc., see Tugwell, (Editor) The Trend of Economics. Sometimes treated as an institutionalist manifesto, but with several “black sheep.” Cf. Review of the volume by A. A. Young, Q.J.E.

6. Other authors more or less sympathetic with the “movement,” see Boucke[sp?], Clark, Edie (uses the word for all recent economics he approves of) Hamilton.


II. Criticism of Institutional Economics.

1. Eva Flügge, in Jahrb. f. Nationalökon. u. Statistik, LXII, 1927. Important; on relations to German Historical School Position.

2. Homan, P. T. Essays on Veblen and Mitchell in Contemporary Economic Thought. Also Paper, A.E.R., Sup., Mar., 1932, and Discussion following, by various members. Cf. J.P.E., 1927 (Impasse, etc.) Q.J.E., 1928 (Issues, etc.)

3. Morgenstern, Schumpeter, Suranyi-Unger.


III. Earlier Historical Economics

1. Leslie, T.E.C. “The Philosophical Method in Political Economy” and “History of German Political Economy” in Essays in Moral and Political Philosophy.

2. Schmoller, The Mercantile System. (Example of an argument for the method. Cf. Veblen’s essay on Schmoller, under Veblen, above.

3. Ashley, W. J. Trans. of Roscher Program; also “The Study of Economic History” and “The Study of Economic History after Seven Years,” first two in Q.J.E., all in Surveys Historical and Economic.

4. Cohn, G., A.A.A., 1894 and Ec. Jour., 1905; Dunbar, Q.J.E. Vol. I (and in vol. Econ. Essays); Keynes, J.M., in Scope and Method of Pol. Econ.; Ingram, in History of Pol. Econ.; Nasse, Q.J.E., 1886; Rae, in Contemporary Socialism, pp. 193-221; Seager, J.P.E., 1892; Wagner, Q.J.E., 1886.


IV. The Neo-Historical School in Germany, and Related Work.

1. Parsons, T., Capitalism in Recent German Literature (Somart and M. Weber; best thing in English. For orientation see also Parsons, “Economics and Sociology” in Q.J.E., February, 1932).

2. Sombart, W., “Economic History and Economic Theory”, Ec. Hist. Rev.; Nationalökonomie u. Soziologie, Kieler Vorträge; also in G.D.S., Vol. III.

3. Diehl, Carl, Life and Work of Max Weber, Q.J.E. Vol.33.

4. Abel, Th., Chap. on Max Weber in vol., Systematic Sociology in German.

5. Weber, M., Protestant Ethic; and General Economic History.

6. Sombart, W., Die drei Nationalökonomien. Der modern Kapitalismus.

7. Weber, M., Essays in Ges. Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre, esp. on Roscher und Knies, and Objektivität; finally, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (2 vols., in Grudriss d. Sozialökonomie).

8. Brinkmann, C., in Überbau etc., Schmollers Jahrb., 1930.; von Schelting, Zum Streit um die Wissenssoziologie, in Archiv. f. Sozialwiss. u. Sozialpol., v. 62, 1930. And references in both.

9. Related work in other countries. Tawney. Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, and other work; Simiand[sp?], La method positive dans l’économie politique (and French Neo-Positivism generally).

10. Another German movement closely related to neo-historism is the Universalistic economics of Spann. See in English his History of Economics. Also, C. Schmitt, Politische Romantik.

11. On the problem of Objectivity (Wertfreiheit) an essential issue throughout this movment, but especially under the influence of communism and fascism, see E. Spranger, Der Sinn d. Voraussetzungslosigkeit d. Wissenschaft (1930 and references.



1. General Problems of Behavior (above bio-mechanics and chemistry and histology). Surveys, chiefly on level of physiology and animal behavior in Parmelee, Problem of Human Behavior; Allport, Social Psychology. Cf. Metchnikoff, Nature of Man; Wheeler, Ants; Emerson, Termites. Psychology Symposia, Clark University, Psychologies of 1925, also 1930; also, The Unconscious, sponsored Mrs. E. Dummer. Cf. Cooley, Dewey, Ellwood, McDougall, Sumner, Wallas. Survey of General Sociology, Park & Burgess, Introduction. Sociology from standpoint of society as a unit, Spann, Gesellschaftslehre; from that of personalities in relation, Hornell Hart.

2. History and Economic History. Müller-Lyer; Hobhouse, also Hobhouse, Wheeler & Ginsburg; Gras; E. Gross. On Economic Interpretation of History; Communist Manifesto: Engels; Labriola; See; Seligman. (Hanson; Knight; Matthews). History and Historical Method: Adams, G. B. [sp.?]; Adams, Brooks; Barth; Bernheim; Cheyney; Flint; Fueter; Teggart; Rickert; Windelband. (For Rickert-Windelband view of history, Chap. I of Park & Burgess Sociology with Bibliography. Cf. Small, Origins of Sociology.

3. Institutions. Besides Sociology, see Anthropology, works of (esp.) Lowie, Goldenweiser; also, Boas, Kroeber, Wallis, Wissler, etc.

4. Particular Institutions, (all more or less economic in basis and function). Language: Sapir; The Family; Westermarck, Calhoun; Law: Commons, Pound, Jenks, Holdsworth, Maine, Maitland, Vinogradoff. Religion: Barton, Carpenter, Carus, Cumont, Harnak, Simkhovitch, Sohm, Lagarde, Walker.

5. Economic Institutions, Specifically. Bibliographies in Sombart, Der modern Kapitalismus; use table of contents and index. Surveys of Economic History; Knight, Barnes & Fluegel, Economic History of Europe; H. See, Modern Capitalism (both with chapter bibliographies).

6. Methodology. See M. R. Cohen, “Social Science and Natural Science,” in Ogburn & Goldenweiser (Ed.) The Social Sciences in their Interrelations; also most of the 33 papers in the volume, all with bibliographies. Rice, S. A., (Ed.) Methods in Social Science, a Case-Book; 52 papers, mostly analyses of particular works or groups of works from methodological standpoint. Keynes, J. N., Scope and Method of Political Economy.

7. Idea of Style and Culture-Pattern. Compare Wöfflin, Kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe; Sapir in Ogburn and Goldenweiser.


Source: Homer Jones Papers, Duke University, Rubenstein Library. Box 2, Folder “Frank H. Knight, Economics 304, lecture, notes, 1933, Oct.-1934.”

Image Source: University of Chicago Photographic Archive, apf1-03516, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.


Other sources for this course:

  • F. T. Ostrander’s “Notes on Frank H. Knight’s Course, Economics from an Institutional Standpoint, Economics 305, University of Chicago, 1933-34,” Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology, 23(B), 2005.
  • Earl Hamilton’s  Economics 305 notes in Summer Quarter 1935, (Frank Knight Papers, Box 38, Folder 8) are cited among other places in Malcolm Rutherford’s “Chicago economics and institutionalism” in The Elgar Companion to the Chicago School of Economics (Ross B. Emmett, ed.).
  • In the Hyman Minsky Archive at Bard College are notes Minsky took in Economics 305 during the Spring Quarter 1942.
Irwin Collier

Posted by: Irwin Collier