Our Name

The nickname for economics has been "the dismal science" for centuries. The myth is that this is the name Thomas Carlyle (a Scottish writer and philosopher) gave to the field after reading Thomas Malthus' work concluding that population growth would forever limit economic growth due to the strain of populations on the food supply (Schneider 2018, Thompson 2013). Plagues and starvation were seen by Malthus as an unavoidable check on population growth. Even more dismal, modern-day white supremacist eco-fascists trace their ideological roots back to these Malthusian arguments.

Economic historians; however, claim that Carlyle's nickname stemmed instead from a reaction to economists like John Stuart Mill, who argued in support of the emancipation of slaves based on the finding that institutions, and not race, explained differences in the wealth of nations (Schneider 2018, Levy 2001). In other words, the field's position that individual liberty should be extended to all races is what Carlyle found "dismal".  

Today, the term is often used in jest to refer to the field that studies many depressing economic outcomes (stock market crashes, environmental damage, the impact of globalization on jobs, etc.). However, we find the field to be anything but dismal. We see a field that is focused on solutions and offers hope for a brighter future.


Levy, David M. 2001. “How to the Dismal Science Got Its Name: Debating Racial Quackery.” Journal of the History of Economic Thought 23 (1): 5–35.

Schneider, Michael. 2018. “Carlyle and Boulding: The Two Economists Largely Responsible for Their Discipline Becoming Known as ‘The Dismal Science.’” History of Economics Review 70 (1): 40–48.

Thompson, Derek. 2013. “Why Economics Is Really Called ‘the Dismal Science.’” The Atlantic. December 17, 2013. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/12/why-economics-is-really-called-the-dismal-science/282454/.

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