G. L. S. Shackle

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G. L. S. Shackle
Born (1903-07-14)14 July 1903
Died 3 March 1992(1992-03-03) (aged 88)
Nationality English
School/tradition Post-Keynesian economics

George Lennox Sharman Shackle (14 July 1903 – 3 March 1992) was an English economist. He made a practical attempt to challenge classical rational choice theory and has been characterised as a "post-Keynesian," though he is influenced as well by Austrian economics; he has been described as drawing "Keynesian conclusions from Austrian premises." Much of his work is associated with the Dempster–Shafer theory of evidence.


Born in Cambridge, his father was a mathematics teacher who had coached John Maynard Keynes to an Eton scholarship. Shackle attended The Perse School but his parents could not afford to support him through university so he started work as a bank clerk. Later becoming a teacher, he studied in his own time for a University of London BA degree which he took in 1931. He started work on a PhD under the supervision of Friedrich Hayek at the LSE but switched to an interpretation of Keynes's General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. He obtained his doctorate in 1937.

Following a number of academic posts, at the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Shackle was appointed to S-Branch, Sir Winston Churchill's inner office of economists. There he served along with Donald MacDougall and Helen Makower under the leadership of Frederick Lindemann.

Following the war, a short spell at the Cabinet Office under James Meade and at the University of Leeds led to appointment as professor of economics at the University of Liverpool, a post he held until his retirement in 1969.


Shackle was influenced by Keynes and Gunnar Myrdal and challenged the conventional role of probability in economics, contending that it failed adequately to deal with "surprising" events. The grounds of his thinking can be seen in Keynes's remark:

By "uncertain" knowledge … I do not mean merely to distinguish what is known for certain from what is only probable. The game of roulette is not subject, in this sense, to uncertainty … The sense in which I am using the term is that in which the prospect of a European war is uncertain, or the price of copper and the rate of interest twenty years hence, or the obsolescence of a new invention … About these matters there is no scientific basis on which to form any calculable probability whatever. We simply do not know!

Though technical in nature, Shackle's work took economics into novel territory such as the importance of imagination in economic decisions to assess the plausibility of alternative outcomes. Though Shackle's work has had a limited impact on mainstream thought within economics, it continues (perhaps increasingly) to attract interest.

He also claimed the importance of Gunnar Myrdal's analysis by which saving and investment are allowed to adjust ex ante to each other. However, the reference to ex ante and ex post analysis has become so usual in modern macroeconomics that the position of Keynes to not include it in his work, is currently considered as an oddity, if not a mistake. As Shackle put it:

Myrdalian ex ante language would have saved the General Theory from describing the flow of investment and the flow of saving as identically, tautologically equal, and within the same discourse, treating their equality as a condition which may, or not, be fulfilled. (Shackle, G.L.S. (1989) "What did the General Theory do?", in J. Pheby (ed), New Directions in Post-keynesian Economics, Aldershot: Edward Elgar.)

Shackle has also made important contributions to the history of economic thought, especially with regard to twentieth century economic schools of thought.

Others commenting on Shackle[edit]

In 'The Black Swan', Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes about Shackle (emphasis added):

Hayek is one of the rare celebrated members of his "profession" (along with J. M. Keynes and G.L.S. Shackle) to focus on true uncertainty, on the limitations of knowledge, on the unread books in Eco's library.


Tragically, before the proliferation of empirically blind idiot savants, interesting work had been begun by true thinkers, the likes of J. M. Keynes, Friedrich Hayek, and the great Benoit Mandelbrot, all of whom were displaced because they moved economics away from the precision of second-rate physics. Very sad. 'One great underestimated thinker is G.L.S. Shackle, now almost completely obscure, who introduced the notion of "unknowledge"', that is, the unread books in Umberto Eco's library. It is unusual to see Shackle's work mentioned at all, and I had to buy his books from secondhand dealers in London.


By Shackle[edit]

  • Frowen, S.F. (ed.) (2004). Economists in Discussion : The Correspondence Between G.L.S. Shackle and Stephen F. Frowen, 1951–1992. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-77208-3. 
  • Shackle, G.L.S (1938) Expectations, Investment and Income
  • – (1949). Expectations in Economics. Gibson Press. ISBN 0-88355-816-5. 
  • – (1967). The Years of High Theory: Invention and Tradition in Economic Thought 1926–1939. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-06279-9. 
  • – (1970). Expectation, Enterprise and Profit: The Theory of the Firm. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-31378-3. 
  • – (1972). Epistemics & Economics: A Critique of Economic Doctrines. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 1-56000-558-0. 
  • – (1979). Imagination and the Nature of Choice. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-85224-357-X. 
  • – (1983). "The Bounds of Unknowledge". In J. Wiseman (ed), Beyond positive economics. New York: St. Martin's Press.

About Shackle[edit]

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