Re: How the Dismal Science Got Its Name

Max More (
Fri, 21 Mar 1997 17:03:57 -0800

At 02:37 PM 3/21/97 -0800, you wrote:
>David Levy, an economic historian at George Mason University, has a
>paper and an upcoming book called "How the Dismal Science Got Its Name".
>The paper's abstract is:
> Thomas Carlyle in his "Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question"
> was apppalled that the classical British economists considered blacks
> to be fully human. Carlyle said that economists did not understand
> that blacks could not be persuaded to work by money, they had to be
> whipped. Thus the economists' anti-racisms is the basis of the
> allegation of our name, the "dismal science.

I always heard that economics was referred to as "the dismal science"
because it was associated early on with Malthus's doctrines of increasing
scarcity of resources and the inevitability of poverty. From the above
quote, it's not clear that even from the racist's viewpoint economics would
be "dismal" unless the word meant something different then.


Max More, Ph.D.
President, Extropy Institute, Editor, Extropy,
(310) 398-0375