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Economic Review

Sep/Oct, 1985

The Early History of the Phillips Curve

Thomas M. Humphrey

The Phillips Curve depicts a relationship between inflation and unemployment in graphical or equation form. In a previous article (see the March /April issue of this Review ), Thomas Humphrey catalogued the various formulations of the relationship that have appeared since the publication in 1958 of A. W. Phillips’ famous article on the subject. In the present article, Humphrey turns to the history of monetary doctrines seeking precursors of the modern formulations in the writings of Phillips' forerunners.

Humphrey finds an early representation of a Phillips Curve relationship in the writings of David Hume. Other pioneers in the curve's pre-history include Irving Fisher, who first attempted to verify the relationship statistically, Jan Tinbergen, who estimated the first econometric Phillips Curve equation, and Paul Sultan, who first represented the relationship as a graph. Also considered are the contributions of Henry Thornton, John Stuart Mill, Lawrence Klein, A. J. Brown and others. Despite the work of these men, the Phillips Curve did not gain wide acceptance until the 1960s. Humphrey suggests several reasons for its belated popularity.

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