Heilbroner, Robert Louis (1919 – ) American Economist and Author

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Robert Louis Heilbroner (1919 ) American economist and author

An economist by profession, Robert Heilbroner is the author of a number of books and articles that put economic theories and developments into historical perspective and relate them to contemporary social and political problems. He is especially noteworthy for his gloomy speculations on the future of a world confronted by the environmental limits to economic growth.

Born in New York City in 1919, Heilbroner received a bachelor's degree from Harvard University in 1940 and a Bronze Star for his service in World War II. In 1963 he earned a Ph.D. in economics from the New School for Social Research in New York, and in 1972, became the Norman Thomas Professor of Economics there. His books include The Worldly Philosophers (1955), The Making of Economic Society (1962), Marxism: For and Against (1980), and The Nature and Logic of Capitalism (1985). He has also served on the editorial board of the socialist journal Dissent.

In 1974, Heilbroner published An Inquiry into the Human Prospect, in which he argues that three "external challenges" confront humanity: the population explosion, the threat of war, and "the danger...of encroaching on the environment beyond its ability to support the demands made on it." Each of these problems, he maintains, arises from the development of scientific technology, which has increased human life span, multiplied weapons of destruction, and encouraged industrial production that consumes natural resources and pollutes the environment. Heilbroner believes that these challenges confront all economies, and that meeting them will require more than adjustments in economic systems. Societies will have to muster the will to make sacrifices.

Heilbroner goes on to argue that persuading people to make these sacrifices may not be possible. Those living in one part of the world are not likely to give up what they have for the sake of those in another part, and people living now are not likely to make sacrifices for future generations . His reluctant conclusion is that coercion is likely to take the place of persuasion. Authoritarian governments may well supplant democracies because "the passage through the gantlet ahead may be possible only under governments capable of rallying obedience far more effectively than would be possible in a democratic setting. If the issue for mankind is survival, such governments may be unavoidable, even necessary."

Heilbroner wrote An Inquiry into the Human Prospect in 1972 and 1973, but his position had not changed by the end of the decade. In a revised edition written in 1979, he continued to insist upon the environmental limits to economic growth: "the industrialized capitalist and socialist worlds can probably continue along their present growth paths" for about 25 years, at which point "we must expect...a general recognition that the possibilities for expansion are limited, and that social and economic life must be maintained within fixed...material boundaries." Heilbroner has published a number of books, including 21st Century Capitalism
and Visions of the Future. He also received the New York Council for the Humanities Scholar of the Year award in 1994. Heilbroner currerently holds the position of Norman Thomas Professor of Economics, Emeritus, at the New School for Social Research, in New York City.

[Richard K. Dagger ]



Heilbroner, Robert L. An Inquiry into the Human Prospect. Rev. ed. New York: Norton, 1980.

. The Making of an Economic Society. 6th ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1980.

. The Nature and Logic of Capitalism. New York: Norton, 1985.

. Twenty-First Century Capitalism. Don Mills, Ont.: Anansi, 1992.

. The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers. 6th ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986.

Straub, D., ed. Contemporary Authors: New Revision Series. Vol. 21. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1987.

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Heilbroner, Robert Louis (1919 – ) American Economist and Author

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