The study of economics does not seem to require any specialised gifts of an unusually high order. Is it not, intellectually regarded, a very easy subject compared with the higher branches of philosophy and pure science? Yet good, or even competent, economists are the rarest of birds. An easy subject, at which very few excel!
The paradox finds its explanation, perhaps, in that the master-economist must possess a rare combination of gifts.
· He must reach a high standard in several different directions and must combine talents not often found together.
· He must be mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher—in some degree.
· He must understand symbols and speak in words.
· He must contemplate the particular in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought.
· He must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future. No part of man's nature or his institutions must lie entirely outside his regard.
· He must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood; as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, yet sometimes as near the earth as a politician.
— John Maynard Keynes'Alfred Marshall: 1842-1924' (1924). In Geoffrey Keynes (ed.), Essays in Biography (1933), 170.