I was taking a mental break reading Tyler Cowen’s sweet econ blog (www.marginalrevolution.com) and stumbled upon this article explaining how economics came to be known as “the dismal science”. First of all, the legend that Thomas Carlyle leveled the name against Malthus’s predictions of global famine is a myth. The name was, in fact, coined by Thomas Carlyle, but was leveled against the likes of John Stuart Mill, an economist who suggested that economic institutions are responsible for “the wealth of nations” and not the character of the inhabitants. Mill and his fellow British economists believed that people were all relatively similar if not the same at root, and this argument was used, with the acceptance of the economists, by the British abolitionist movement. Carlyle and his fellows, including members of the nascent eugenics movement, thought this few to be heresy and contrary to their views of the superiority of the white race, and thus claimed that economics was not a “gay science” but in face a “dismal science”.
An interesting historical point, and while it has little argumentative value, an interesting anecdote for the next conversation with a liberal anthropology major who insists that economics is a dry, inhumane, “dismal” discipline, and has no place in a debate about “morals” (which is, of course, a fatuous argument anyhow, since so many normative values are tied up in every instance of economics).