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Kenneth Ewart Boulding (January 18 1910 - March 18 1993) was an economist, educator, poet, religious mystic, devoted Quaker, systems scientist, and interdisciplinary philosopher. He was born in Liverpool, England, graduated from Oxford University, and granted United States citizenship in 1948. Boulding was a founder of numerous ongoing intellectual projects in economics and social science. Described as "a polymath for all systems"[How to reference and link to summary or text], he published over three dozen books and over one-hundred dozen articles. Current Contents found him to be one of those rare authors of a "Citation Classic." Indeed, even more rare, he was the author of two Citation Classics: The Image: Knowledge in Life and Society (1956) and Conflict and Defense: A General Theory (1962).


The World is a very complex system. It is easy to have too simple a view of it, and it is easy to do harm and to make things worse under the impulse to do good and make things better."

Kenneth Boulding, Proceedings

Boulding was president of numerous scholarly societies including the American Economic Association, the Society for General Systems Research, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was not only a prolific writer and a creative integrator of knowledge, but an academician of world stature -- indeed, a magisterial figure in the discipline of social science. For Boulding, economics and sociology were not social sciences -- rather, they were all aspects of a single social science devoted to the study of human persons and their relationships (organizations). Boulding spearheaded an evolutionary (instead of equilibrium) approach to economics. See Kenneth Boulding's Evolutionary Perspective.

Boulding, with his wife Elise, was an active member of the Religious Society of Friends or Quakers. He took part in Quaker gatherings, served on committees, and spoke to and about the Friends. The two were members of meetings in Nashville, Tennessee, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Boulder, Colorado. Interestingly, although he stuttered, when he ministered in a Friends meeting, he spoke clearly. In March 1971, he even conducted a silent vigil at the headquarters of the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia to protest what he considered its distancing itself from Quakers. He penned the widely circulated "There is a Spirit," a series of sonnets he wrote in 1945 based on the last statement of the 17th century Quaker James Nayler.

Boulding emphasized that human economic and other behavior is embedded in a larger interconnected system: To understand the results of our behavior, economic or otherwise, we must first research and develop a scientific understanding of the ecodynamics of the general system, the global society in which we live. Boulding believed that in the absence of a committed effort to the right kind of social science research and understanding, the human species might well be doomed to extinction. But he died optimistic, believing our evolutionary journey had just begun.

Psychic capital[]

Psychic capital is a term first used by Boulding (1950). Capital is an accumulation of wealth, and with psychic capital, the accumulation is one of desirable mental states, which admittedly are highly transitory in nature. The mental states could be memories of pleasure, success, achievement, recognition, and the desire to add to psychic capital is likely to be a powerful motivating force. Exchanges involving increases or decreases of psychic capital are likely to occur at any time, either through decision or through the turn of events. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

However, failure in a task could also lead to a depletion of psychic capital. An accumulation of negative memories of failures, disasters, atrocities, or perceived injustices and indignities (as either recipient or perpetrator) could be called negative psychic capital. Negative psychic capital can also be a powerful motivating factor, in the pursuit of satisfaction through revenge or a settling of scores. In either of its forms as positive or negative psychic capital, this package of collective memory is an essential link between collective memory and collective mental state.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

The concept is somewhat more specific than social capital, which focuses on social networks rather than mental states.


  • "Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist."
  • "Mathematics brought rigor to Economics. Unfortunately, it also brought mortis."
  • "Economists are like computers. They need to have facts punched into them."
  • "We make our tools, and then they shape us."
  • "Nothing fails like success because we don't learn from it. We learn only from failure."
  • "There is no such thing as economics, only social science applied to economic problems."
  • "On Behaviourism:
That is considered wisdom, which
Describes the scratch and not the itch."



  • Economic Analysis, (Harper & Brothers, 1941).
  • The Economics of Peace, (Prentice Hall, 1945).
  • "There is a Spirit: The Nayler Sonnets," (Fellowship Publications, 1945).
  • A Reconstruction of Economics, (J. Wiley, 1950).
  • The Organizational Revolution: A Study in the Ethics of Economic Organization, (Harper & Brothers, 1953).
  • The Image: Knowledge in Life and Society, (University of Michigan Press, 1956).
  • The Skills of the Economist, (H. Hamilton, 1958).
  • Principles of Economic Policy, (Prentice-Hall, 1958).
  • Conflict and Defence: A General Theory, (Harper & Bros., 1962).
  • The Meaning of the Twentieth Century: the Great Transition, (Harper & Row, 1964).
  • The Impact of the Social Sciences, (Rutgers University Press, 1966).
  • Beyond Economics: Essays on Society, Religion, and Ethics, (University of Michigan Press, 1968).
  • Economics as a Science, (McGraw-Hill, 1970).
  • A Primer on Social Dynamics: History as Dialectics and Development, (Free Press, 1970).
  • Economics, (Colorado Associated University Press, 1971).
  • Political Economy, (Colorado Associated University Press, 1973).
  • The Economy of Love and Fear: A Preface to Grants Economics, (Wadsworth, 1973).(
  • Toward a General Social Science, (Colorado Associated University Press, 1974).
  • International Systems: Peace, Conflict Resolution, and Politics, (Colorado Associated University Press, 1975).
  • Sonnets from the Interior Life, and Other Autobiographical Verse, (Colorado Associated University Press, 1975).
  • Stable Peace, (University of Texas Press, 1978).
  • Ecodynamics: A New Theory of Societal Evolution, (Sage, 1978).
  • Beasts, Ballads, and Bouldingisms: A Collection of Writings, (Transaction Books, 1980).
  • Evolutionary Economics, (Sage, 1981).
  • Toward the Twenty-First Century: Political Economy, Social Systems, and World Peace, (Colorado Associated University Press, 1985).
  • Human Betterment, (Sage, 1985).
  • The World as a Total System, (Sage, 1985).
  • Mending the World: Quaker Insights on the Social Order, (Pendle Hill Publications, 1986).
  • Three Faces of Power, (Sage, 1989).
  • Towards a New Economics: Critical Essays on Ecology, Distribution, and Other Themes, (Edward Elgar, 1992).
  • The Structure of a Modern Economy: the United States, 1929-89, (Macmillan, 1993).


  • Boulding, Kenneth E., A Reconstruction of Economics. New York: Wiley and London: Chapman and Hall, 1950.
  • Boulding, Kenneth E., 1986, "Proceedings of the 7th Friends Association for Higher Education Conference, Malone College, 1986, p. 4, quoted in Debora Hammond, The Science of Synthesis, Colorado: University of Colorado Press, 2003.

See also[]

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