Robert Giffen

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Sir Robert Giffen (1837April 12 1910), was a British statistician and economist. He was born at Strathaven, Lanarkshire.

He entered a solicitor's office in Glasgow, and while in that city attended courses at the university. He drifted into journalism, and after working for the Stirling Journal he went to London in 1862 and joined the staff of the Globe. He also assisted John Morley, when the latter edited the Fortnightly Review. In 1868 he became Walter Bagehot's assistant-editor on The Economist; and his services were also secured in 1873 as city editor of the Daily News, and later of The Times.

His high reputation as a financial journalist and statistician, gained in these years, led to his appointment in 1876 as head of the statistical department in the Board of Trade, and subsequently he became assistant secretary (1882) and finally controller-general (1892), retiring in 1897. In connection with his position as chief statistical adviser to the government, he was constantly employed in drawing up reports, giving evidence before commissions of inquiry, and acting as a government auditor, besides publishing a number of important essays on financial subjects. His principal publications were American Railways as Investments (1873), Essays on Finance (1879 and 1884), The Progress of the Working Classes (1884), The Growth of Capital (1890), The Case against Bimetallism (1892), and Economic Inquiries and Studies (1904). He was president of the Statistical Society (now called the Royal Statistical Society) (1882-1884); and after being made a Companion of the Order of the Bath.

In 1891 was created Knight Commander in the Order of the Bath. In 1892 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Sir Robert Giffen continued in later years to take a leading part in all public controversies connected with finance and taxation, and his high authority and practical experience were universally recognized. He died somewhat suddenly in Scotland on the 12th of April 1910.

The concept of a Giffen good is named after him. Alfred Marshall wrote in the third (1895) edition of his Principles of Economics:

As Mr. Giffen has pointed out, a rise in the price of bread makes so large a drain on the resources of the poorer labouring families and raises so much the marginal utility of money to them, that they are forced to curtail their consumption of meat and the more expensive farinaceous foods: and, bread being still the cheapest food which they can get and will take, they consume more, and not less of it.

Scholars have not been able to identify any passage in Giffen's writings where he pointed this out.

The main part of this entry is taken from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

[edit] Discussions

  • R. S. Mason Robert Giffen and the Giffen Paradox, Philip Allan (1989)
  • A. E. Bateman, ‘Sir Robert Giffen’, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, 73, (1910) pp. 529-533. (includes photograph)
  • F. Y. Edgeworth, ‘Sir Robert Giffen’, Economic Journal, 20, (1910) pp. 318-321.

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Robert Giffen

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