Tensions

Historians of economics and economists have a tense relationship. For various reasons. We have already seen this tension showing up in this blog, in different ways: issues of building halls of fame, the art of making interviews and using it in historical accounts, issues on the veracity of stories told, discussions about strategies of publishing,  and more recently the matter of using the past by economists and their refusal to be very informed by historical work.

We also know that the recent economic and financial crisis has resuscitated some economists like Keynes, Marx, Smith, Schumpeter, Minsky, Hayek, and others. Confidence in modern economics was shaken and criticisms were raised by prominent figures such as Krugman, among others. This made us wonder, as Beatrice wrote, whether history of economics would be seen as providing “useful knowledge for economists in a time of crisis”. Teaching of the history of economics became somewhat fashionable (mainly given the low interest it had previously). High hopes in our field, deservedly.

However, there is still a very tough issue that I am not sure how much the current crisis can change: the fact that historians of economics usually are affiliated to economics departments and are evaluated according to unfavorable rankings of journals. Recently, Daniela Parisi posted a message on the SHOE List (Feb. 24, 2011) announcing an assistant professor position at the Faculty of Economics of Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano, Italy. When people went to check requirements and additonal information, they learned that that professorship would be assigned based on outstanding research according to a list of journals that had no history of economics journal in it. Some historians were offended and later Daniela explained that she posted that message:

Thinking of all the Italian economists working in the history of economic thought and of the historians of economic thought that have long taught economic subjects in Italy and abroad. In sending in the invitation, I thought of all those that, in reading it, would feel discriminated against. I sent it in to see the reactions the invitation would trigger…

More recently, the president of the History of Economic Thought Society of Australia (HETSA), Alex Millmow, posted a message on SHOE with a call for trying to save their journal, the History of Economics Review, from a downgrade, which would jeopardize the jobs of many historians and substantially limit the youngsters to have a chance of a decent academic life. A similar dreadful situation like this is happening elsewhere in Europe and in North-America.

Brazil is an odd country in this sense because the official ranking used by an agency of the Ministry of Education to evaluate graduate programs in different areas, including economics, has in its first category journals like AER, QJE, JPE, Econometrica, and top field journals such as HOPE and the Journal of Economic Methodology, among others. This is the product of a resistance work and it is not permanent: every three years the ranking is discussed among economists and it may change.

But the real question remains, how effective will be the crisis and the lack of confidence it brought to economics in having a permanent effect to the history of economics beyond generating demand for teachers of this subject: will it make economists more sensitive to issues of academic standards and ranking of historical work? (Of course, this question is important to the extent which historians of economics keep fighting to have positions in economics departments.)

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5 thoughts on “Tensions

  1. Tiago
    will you please give the history of economic thought society ‘s Annual conference a plug?
    those interested can check out the conference website at HETSA.ORG.AU
    The web site also has a free electronic archive to some 50 issues of the History of Economics review
    regards
    Alex Millmow
    President of HETSA

  2. The more I read blogs are related zeitgeist barometers (including among others Tiago and Delong recent exchange on Shiller or what I gather from Ben, Floris and Tiago’s posting from INET conf), the less I believe that economists are actually demanding for history, or more exactly for the kind of history we’re writing. With a few exceptions, it doesn’t look like economists are willing to engage in a conversation with historians of economics or economic historians, to learn from what they’re doing. It rather look like they are trying to produce their own historical knowledge on their own. I had no idea why.

    But I’m an incurable pessimist, I tend to believe that “Winter is Coming” on a permanent basis…

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