1895-1929: The Era of Edwin Cannan

When the LSE was founded in 1895, Economics was centred on Cambridge and the teaching of Alfred Marshall, whose Principles of Economics was published in 1890, would dominate the teaching of Economics for many years. In contrast, economists at Oxford took a more historical view of Economics and argued that historical and institutional factors had to be considered as well as theoretical aspects. Some of the founders of the LSE were sympathetic to this view, so when Edwin Cannan (1865-1935), an Oxford trained economist, offered to teach Economic Theory at LSE, the offer was accepted and Cannan taught the subject until his retirement in 1926. While students who attended his course were unimpressed by his teaching skills, his arguments for free markets and liberalism impressed them and influenced their outlook. This was true of both Lionel Robbins (1898-1984) and Arnold Plant (1898-1974) and its reflection in the teaching of Plant greatly influenced Ronald Coase (1910-2013) in his approach to Economics.

Cannan was replaced by an American economist, Allyn Young (1876-1929), but his time at LSE was sadly cut short when he died suddenly, aged 52, from pneumonia following influenza. To replace him, Lionel Robbins, who was at the time a Fellow at New College, Oxford, was appointed Professor at LSE.

Suggested Reading:


References to the Economics Department and individual economists are threaded through Dahrendorf (1995), as a diligent examination of the index will reveal. Cord (2018a) contains thematic chapters concerning the Economics Department and biographical chapters on economists from all three periods.

Thomas (2005) provides a background to the early teaching of Economics at LSE. Coats (1993b) reports on Alfred Marshall’s reactions to the founding of LSE.

Cannan (1929) contains a write-up of the course material that Cannan taught for many years. Gregory and Dalton (1927) and Dalton (1927) provide early tributes to Cannan’s scholarship. Cannan’s liberal views were popular with neo-liberals and Ebenstein (1997) presents an interpretation of Cannan’s work from this perspective. Tribe (2018) presents a more recent biographical study.

Coase (1994b) and Cord (2018b) present biographies of Plant and Plant (1974) contains a selection of his writings. Of interest here is ‘The economics of the native question’ – written in 1927 while he was a Professor in South Africa – it is a criticism of racist labour market policies he observed there.

Alan Young had a very brief period at LSE, but Mehrling and Sandilands (1999) offer biographical information and reprint much of Young’s published work. Sandilands (1990) edited a reprint of Nicholas Kaldor’s lecture notes of Young’s LSE lectures from 1927-29.


Please click on the button for a detailed list of references.

  • Cannan, E. (1929) A Review of Economic Theory, (London: P.S. King and Son).
  • Coase, R.H. (1994a) Essays on Economics and Economists, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).
  • Coase, R.H. (1994b) ‘Arnold Plant’, Chapter 12 in Coase (1994a).
  • Coats, A.W. (1993b) ‘Alfred Marshall and the Early Development of the London School of Economics’, Chapter 19 in Coats (1993a).
  • Cord, R.A. (Ed.) (2018a) The Palgrave Companion to LSE Economics, (London: Palgrave Macmillan).
  • Cord, R.A. (2018b) ‘Arnold Plant (1898-1978)’, Chapter 13 in Cord (2018a).
  • Dahrendorf, R. (1995) A History of the London School of Economics and Political Science 1895—1995, (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
  • Dalton, H. (1927) ‘Professor Cannan’s General Contribution’, in Gregory and Dalton (1927), pp. 3-27.
  • Ebenstein, A. (Ed.) (1997) Edwin Cannan: Liberal Doyen, (London: Routledge/Thoemmes Press).
  • Gregory, T.E. and H. Dalton (Eds.) (1927) London Essays in Economics: In Honour of Edwin Cannan, (London: George Routledge & Sons).
  • Mehrling, P.G. and R.J. Sandilands (Eds.) (1999) Money and Growth: Selected papers of Allyn Abbott Young, (London: Rougtledge).
  • Plant, A. (1974) Selected Economic Essays and Addresses, (London: Routledge & Keegan Paul).
  • Sandilands, R.J. (ed.) (1990) Nicholas Kaldor’s Notes on Allyn Young’s LSE Lectures, 1927-29, Special Issue of the Journal of Economic Studies, Vol. 17, Number 3/4.
  • Thomas, J. (2005) ‘Was There Ever a “London” School of Economics?’, Paper presented at the 32nd Annual HES Conference at the University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA on Sunday, 26th June 2005).
  • Tribe, K. (2018) ‘Edwin Cannan (1861-1935)’, Chapter 7 in Cord (2018a).