I was just amused with two projects by Shaun Usher: to “gather and sort fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, and memos” in his blog Letters of Note, and to present interesting letterheads in his Letterheady blog.
In the former one can see images and the transcript of a scathing letter from John Lennon to Paul and Linda McCartney in the early 1970s, and letters from other pop figures as Mark Twain, Yoko Ono, Thom Yorke (Radiohead), Edgar Allan Poe, CalTech’s chemist Eric Carreira to his post-doc student, among many others. In the latter blog, one finds letterheads of people/companies like Paul Simon, Elizabeth Taylor, Ozzy Osbourne, Marvel, Capitol Records, and many other beautiful ones.
It is interesting that Usher, despite of having “a seemingly endless supply of correspondence to plough through,” invites cyberfellows to contribute with their own images. But he warns them: “If you already know it’s fake, don’t send it.”
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…
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.)
have talent for economic theory?”, and started it as follows:
You should cultivate chiropractory or plumbing if you can’t give the right definite answer to the following question:
“If the minimum cost of achieving at least adequate amounts of calories and vitamins is $39 per year, what must the minimum cost be of achieving exactly the specified amounts of calories and vitamins?”
Does anyone want to try, just for fun, to formulate a question that would serve similarly to the history of economics? Hum… I guess it should start with Smith and end with Keynes…
I guess more people received the same email as me… But in any case, Richard H. Steckel, a professor of economics at the Ohio State University, informed me that J. Bradford DeLong, a professor of economics at U.C. Berkeley, a macroeconomist, economic historian and active blogger
will speak on Monday Nov. 8 at 3:30 (EST) on “Macroeconomics in Historical Perspective.” The links for the streaming event are given below. … In case you are unable to view the live event, we plan to archive the seminar on the Economics Department web page at Ohio State.
So, everybody is invited to see what he will discuss about the history of macroeconomics. In case you want to listen him talk on his education and on “Economics, Politics, and Public Discourse,” there is the following 2007 Youtube video:
On August 20-21 the Department of Economics at Universiy of São Paulo will host a mini symposium on the history of postwar economics. Three renowned scholars on the subject will give a talk at this event: E. Roy Weintraub (Duke University), Mary Morgan (LSE and University of Amsterdam) and Marcel Boumans (University of Amsterdam). They will interact with the community of local scholars and students—and I truly hope the students will see how interesting this subject is…
As I know that everybody is waiting to come to Brazil only in 2014 (wiser people would come now and in 2014, at least…), I am working on having it streamed live on internet and recorded (the videos will be freely available on internet afterwards). For further information on this recording (to be posted later) and for further details about the event, please check the symposium webpage at:
One special thing that called my attention at the last HES in Syracuse was the impressive number of young scholars. As we know, the young scholars program, started in 2000 by Sandra Peart (Dean of the Jepson School at the University of Richmond), recently gained substantial financial support from Warren J. and Sylvia J. Samuels: as a result, the program is now dedicated to them as the Samuels Young Scholars Program. If the program had an average of 8 young scholars attending the HES meetings from 2000 to 2007, in 2009 (Denver) they were 14 and this year 16. Two characteristics of this group is worth mentioning: the majority is non-American, most of them doing Ph.D. in Europe. If this trend continues, it would be easier for the HES meetings to take place abroad (i.e., outside North-America)…
Harro Maas and Tiago Mata (our buddy in this playground and elsewhere) have interviewed Craufurd Goodwin (and also E. Roy Weintraub, Neil De Marchi and Paul Dudenhefer), James B. Duke Professor of Economics at Duke University, about his leadership in the field of history of economics and about the 40th anniversary of his editorship of HOPE — this week there will be a conference at Duke celebrating all this. Harro and Tiago have produced a very nice video, in two parts, with excerpts of that interview that will surely interest historians of economics, fans of Craufurd, and friends of the Duke group in general:
There was a memorial session to Paul Samuelson that was added to the program of the ASSA/AEA meetings in Atlanta. The session was presided by Robert Hall (Stanford University) and had as speakers: Robert Solow (MIT), Peter Diamond (MIT), Avinash Dixit (Princeton University), Robert Merton (Harvard University) and James Poterba (MIT). Both Kenneth Arrow and Stanley Fischer were invited but could not attend. Nonetheless they wrote some remarks that were read by Bob Hall at the session.
Solow was the first to speak and started by posing the following question: who was the most influential economist of the last 70 years? He then argued that this is an ambiguous question. If it refers to the world of politics, newspapers and media, the answer would be Keynes, Friedman, among others, and Paul Krugman in the future. If the question refers to how economics operates and what we do, the answer would undoubtedly be Paul Samuelson, he continued.
Solow then went on and talked about many sides of Samuelson, about his broad interest on economics (he was, to Solow and other panelists, the last generalist in economics), about his understanding that the role of economic theory is to make business journalism better, and other things. Two things are worth mentioning here. First, Solow argued that Samuelson abandoned several areas of economics because he saw them going in the wrong direction and becoming uninteresting. Solow took the opportunity to implicitly raising his criticisms to modern macro by observing that Samuelson abandoned macroeconomics for this reason. Second, Solow said that the Great Depression was really an experience that marked his and Samuelson’s life very much, and made them question the stability of a capitalist economy. This made them become, in Solow’s own words, “cafeteria Keynesians“: those who say “I’d have a little bit of this, and a little bit of that” and “No, thanks, not that”.
Peter Diamond reinforced the role played by Samuelson’s Foundations in his training as an economist, and also praised Samuelson’s overlapping-generations model. He mentioned that as a graduate student at MIT he had both micro and macro with Samuelson because in that year Solow (who usually taught macro) was away.
Other panelists talked about Samuelson’s outstanding intelligence and his habit of working hard, but also of playing tennis regularly in the afternoons, about the fact that he raised 6 children and about his unique habit of calling people and start talking about economic models and ideas without even asking either how the person was doing or if the time was appropriate. Samuelson was praised as a teacher (who was good at showing the subtleties of an issue but not very good in teaching the basic ideas), as someone who understood that mathematics was a powerful language, and as a giant on whose shoulders the current generation stand.
Relevant to historians, two of the panelists repeated two stories already known to some of us. The first was told by Dixit: that Samuelson liked telling stories about economists (like Smith, Marshall, Fisher, Keynes, Joan Robinson…) during his lectures and that he had a special affection for Frank Ramsey. Dixit said that in a class Samuelson told the students that Ramsey has learned German in a week, by reading Kant using a dictionary (with my apologies for self-promotion, details on this apparently false story can be found in my article on Ramsey published in HOPE). The second was by Poterba who mentioned that Samuelson had made a very important contribution to the theory of optimal taxation in a memorandum to the US Treasury in 1951, in which he explained and recast Ramsey’s result of 1927 and which was later published in the Journal of Public Economics (1986) as a historical document.
All in all, it was a very interesting session.
P.S.: AEA members ca watch this and other recorded sessions online at the AEA website. If you want to read Krugman on Samuelson, check his blog.
The current crisis questioned the extent to which economics has produced “useful” knowledge, in particular the areas of macroeconomics and financial economics. There has been another round of criticisms and of defenses that may interest historians and economists alike.
The July 18th edition of The Economist had in its cover a melting wax-like book titled “Modern Economic Theory”. In it there are two interesting articles appraising the developments in macroeconomics and in financial economics (and the hypothesis of efficient markets) and the problems these economists have had in dealing with the crisis.
After that, the Nobel Laureate Professor of Chicago, Robert Lucas, has written an article to the magazine noting that:
both pieces were dominated by the views of people who have seized on the crisis as an opportunity to restate criticisms they had voiced long before 2008. Macroeconomists in particular were caricatured as a lost generation educated in the use of valueless, even harmful, mathematical models, an education that made them incapable of conducting sensible economic policy. I think this caricature is nonsense and of no value in thinking about the larger questions: What can the public reasonably expect of specialists in these areas, and how well has it been served by them in the current crisis?
Lucas goes on to defend Fama and the efficient hypothesis market and to argue against the “caricatures” in The Economist‘s briefings (in the macro piece, mainstream macroeconomics is referred to as “dark age of macroeconomics”). He recasts his view that the crisis is an adverse shock that has being dealt with by many macroeconomists over the last two years. In doing so, these economists have “drawn on recently developed theoretical models when they judged them to have something to contribute. They have drawn on the ideas and research of Keynes from the 1930s, of Friedman and Schwartz in the 1960s, and of many others.”
More recently, a new round of criticisms has started in the United Kingdom. The Queen has visited the London School of Economics on November 5th last year and has asked there why had no economists noticed the crisis that was on its way? On July 22nd, 2009, Professors Tim Besley (LSE and external member of the Bank of England monetary policy committee) and Peter Hennessy (Department of History, Queen Mary, University of London), on the behalf of the British Academy, wrote a letter to the Queen giving the consensus view that emerged during a forum promoted by the British Academy a few days earlier, whose theme was “The Global Financial Crisis: Why Didn’t Anybody Notice?” They summarize this view as following:
So in summary, Your Majesty, the failure to foresee the timing, extent and severity of the crisis and to head it off, while it had many causes, was principally a failure of the collective imagination of many bright people, both in this country and internationally, to understand the risks to the system as a whole.
A group of ten dissident British economists felt that Besley and Hennessy’s letter did not address the heart of the issue: “that in recent years economics has turned virtually into a branch of applied mathematics, and has been become detached from realworld institutions and events.” They wrote another letter to the Queen explaining their position. Among them, one finds Sheila Dow (University of Stirling), Geoffrey Harcourt (Emeritus, University of Cambridge, University of Adelaide), Geoffrey Hodgson (University of Hertfordshire), and Malcolm C. Sawyer (University of Leeds).
The First International Symposium on the History of Economic Thought (ISHET) took place in the Department of Economics at the University of São Paulo from August 3rd to the 5th. The theme of this event was “The Integration of Micro and Macroeconomics from a Historical Perspective” and it brought together a group of renowned historians of economics from abroad as well as local members of this community. In the audience, besides the local discussants and the presenters, there were many students and professors from other Brazilian universities who all basically stayed throughout the symposium.
The symposium was opened by Robert Gordon (Northwestern University), a macroeconomist who has contributed to important discussions in this field since the 1970s–he obtained his BA from Harvard in 1962 and his Ph.D. from the MIT in 1967. The title of Gordon’s lecture was “American Debates on the Sources of Business Cycle” and in it he made an overview of developments in macroeconomics and the problems brought up by the current crisis–he criticized the current macro models for failing to incorporate many elements that are central to understanding the current crisis (echoing criticisms of other economists that the current synthesis in macroeconomics is simply useless).
The first historians to present, in the first day, were Kevin Hoover (Duke University) and Robert Leonard (Université du Québec à Montréal). Kevin discussed that there are different programs of microfoundations, instead of just the one associated with Robert Lucas and his critique of macroeconometric models used for policy analysis. He argues that the distinction between micro and macroeconomics—and the questions of how one relates to the other—dates from the 1930s and that besides the microfoundations of Lucas (within a representative-agent framework), there are two other programs: one Marshallian, rooted in Keynes’s General Theory, and a fixed-price general disequilibrium theory associated with economists like Patinkin, Clower, and Barro and Grossman. He paid special attention to the relationship of such programs to those of general equilibrium and econometrics that date both from the 1930s. Leonard discussed the questions of foundational critique in economics through Oskar Morgenstern’s life and transformations (questions about the role of mathematics in economics, how to model time, among others): from his Austrian breeding to his Princeton years and work with John von Neumann in the 1940s.
In the second day, the presenters were Wade Hands (University of Puget Sound) and Philip Mirowski (University of Notre Dame) in the morning, and Michel De Vroey (Université Catholique de Louvain) and myself in the afternoon. Wade made a very interesting parallel between the rise and fall of Keynesian macroeconomics and the kind of (Walrasian) general equilibrium in microeconomics that emerged during and after World War II. He used the idea of co-evolution to explore the mutual stabilization of Keynesian macro and Walrasian micro. Phil, in his usual enchanting way of a showman, showed the anti-Keynesianism that characterized the three main schools in economics, in the period 1943-1954: Chicago, the MIT and the Cowles Commission, with a focus on the latter two. By doing so, he pondered the recurrent need several economists have of calling themselves Keynesians (he talked about a “zombie Keynes” and compared the neoclassical economists to the Wile E. Coyote, trying to catch Road Runner always with a new technology, but ending up just with the “Beep beep” sound… Wait to watch the video online!).
In the afternoon, Michel discussed to what extent the new classical and real business cycle (RBC) “revolution” in macroeconomics was a matter of microfoundations: he first appraised the “strictness” of Lucas’s microfoundations, then characterized the new classical/RBC movement as a Kuhnian revolution in two stages, and even discussed the possible political agenda of their members. Finally, I closed the day with a discussion on how macroeconomists now perceive the new synthesis in their field (what are its main elements) and how such perception is linked to their understanding of how macroeconomics evolves over time (with a widespread notion of knowledge accumulation). I then discussed how a particular set of elements, mainly the assumption of a representative agent and a particular call for microfoundations (à la Lucas), delimited an area in which the new classicals, RBC theorists and new Keynesians could trade and construct the current consensus.
In the last day, in the morning, there was a round table with the participation of all presenters: each had 10 minutes to ponder the general theme of the symposium, before we opened the floor to questions. The discussion was lively and interesting. In the end, several participants saw that many questions and future points of research emerged during the event, which is indeed a very positive thing.
We know economists sometimes like to use past economists to construct a lineage to the current practice. They like the idea of progress and appreciate triumphal histories. In reading Schmitt-Grohé and Uribe’s paper, “What’s News In Business Cycles,” I came across the following sentence (p.1, but the paper does have a page 0):
The idea that changes in expectations about the future path of exogenous economic fundamentals may represent an important source of aggregate fluctuations has a long history in economics, going back at least to Pigou (1927). Recently, these ideas have been revived in an important paper by Beaudry and Portier (2006).
The book by Pigou referred here is his “Industrial Fluctuations”.
Depite any rethorical device the authors may have employed, I keep wondering about the usefulness (for their audience of economists—sorry fellows, no way to avoid coming back to audience…) of such superficial “historical” claims. Why is it useful to have Pigou as one entry in a reference list of 14 items, most of them dated from the mid 1990s onward? Is it a way of showing one is “well educated”? Is Pigou a “giant” on whose shoulder one can stand? It will be interesting to see whether or not this sentence will be kept in the published version of the paper.
“The Integration of Micro and Macroeconomics from a Historical Perspective” is the theme of the Fist International Symposium on the History of Economic Thought (ISHET) to be held at the Department of Economics at the University of São Paulo, in Brazil, on August 3-5, 2009. The international speakers include Robert Gordon, Michel De Vroey, Wade Hands, Kevin Hoover, Bruna Ingrao, Robert Leonard, and Philip Mirowski. A host of local scholars will discuss the papers presented at the symposium.
Since many of you will not be able to attend the symposim (shame on you!), the organizers are working on having it streamed live on internet and recorded (in order to make the videos freely available on internet afterwards). For further information on this (to be posted later) and for further details, please check the symposium webpage at:
Pedro Garcia Duarte & Gilberto Tadeu Lima (organizers)
P.S.: The poster of the symposium and the webpage use the above painting by a famous Brazilian painter, Candido Portinari (1903-1962). How do you see its relationship with the title/topic of the symposium?
The United Nations released its World Digital Library: an open digital library collecting materials from several different countries, in different languages and from different time periods.
This was a project proposed to the UN by James Billington, director of the US Library of Congress. It provides nowadays access to the libraries of 32 institutions. The UN has as a goal to expand the number of institutions that are part of this project.
There are different types of materials available: books, journals, manuscripts, maps, motion pictures, prints and photographs, and sound recordings. As far as I could sense, the majority of this material is from the period before the XIXth century. The items prints and photographs, motion pictures and sound recordings are probably the ones containing most of the material from the last century. I couldn’t find anything related even to famous economists (Quesnay, Smith, Ricardo, Marx, Keynes, etc). Nonetheless, as the UN promises to expand the project, this may become a more relevant source for the majority of the historians of economics.
Last Friday, the graduate students from my department interested in macroeconomics organized a round table on the so-called “New Neoclassical Synthesis”, as Goodfriend and King (NBER Macroeconomics Annual, 1997, pp. 231-283) called the convergence in method in macro: the fact that “all” macroeconomists seem nowadays to subscribe to the use of a dynamic stochastic general equilibrium (DSGE) model for the analysis of the business cycle and growth.
The students invited three macroeconomists trained in different traditions (two were more “new classicals” and the other was more “post-Keynesian”) and myself to discuss the convergence in macro. The event surprisingly attracted a wide range of people to the audience: graduate students in general, other faculty members working on different areas, and undergraduate students (probably looking more for the heat of the debate than for its light…). A room for 130 people was packed.
The discussion was lively and interesting. One issue that was raised by one presenter was that academic economists do things for grasping better how the economy works, while economists at the Central Banks have to use in the best way they can the available theory to prescribe economic policies (clearly in a different time frame than the academics’), and economists and journalists in the media strategically criticize both academics and policymakers in order to sell their products.
In this vein, it was very interesting that a day prior to the event a friend had just called my attention to Willem Buiter’s comment on Financial Times (March 3rd). According to Buiter, who has important academic and policymaking credentials, modern macroeconomics has to be rewritten almost from scratch: it is simply incapable of dealing with economic problems during “times of stress and financial instability.” Thus, I add, macroeconomists may be proud of spreading the word that they now have a consensus method for doing economics, but a useless one according to some people: simply the wrong direction.
The current economic crisis may bring novel ways not only of doing economics but possibly also of looking at and using its past, a hope (or doubt?) with which Craufurd Goodwin closed his Palgrave (2008) entry on the history of economic thought. Any bets?
In an academic world of impact factors and citations indexes, many historians of economics share the view that publishing articles in economic journals is a healthy practice to our field. However, not many historians have managed to do so for a variety of reasons.
On the other hand, historical work on recent economics can potentially interest more practicing economists than accounts on Smith or Ricardo. Economists would in turn not mind having articles on the history of recent economic ideas in the journals they usually read.
Despite the use economists make of the past and the interest in knowing the “origins” of game theory, behavioral economics or in learning more about venerated figures such as Frank Ramsey, Paul Samuelson or John Hicks, many editors of economic journals seem to disapprove having a historical article published in them.
What are the reasons for rejecting a work on the history of economics? The most often I have encountered is that this kind of paper does not fit within the mission of a theory journal. Some editors go even further by affirming that the journal has moved away from publishing history of thought papers. On this ground, the paper is rejected by the editor without sending it to referees (more on this later).
Besides this reason, there are others used to reject a history paper. One editor stated that the journal has abandoned the field of the history of economic thought chiefly because the lack of enthusiasm among readers and referees (an editor was careful in pointing out that he/she has nothing against the history of economic thought despite his/her decision to reject a history paper). In this case, the editor did try to get some reports on a history paper but simply got back none after sending it to several referees.
Two interesting variants of the argument of a lack of interest. First, on the side of referees, theory journals have nowadays adopted policies of substantially cutting down turnaround times and avoiding situations where authors submit many times and ultimately are not rewarded with publication. As a consequence of these policies many manuscripts will be rejected on the first round of refereeing. Thus, fearing that history articles have low chances of going through a second round and being published, editors feel more compelled to rejecting them in the first round (supposing they do send the articles to referees).
Second, on the side of the readers, editors of theory journals argue that history papers should have clear interface with current data, policymaking, or modeling issues. An editor even provided an illustration of this point: “suppose that a paper establishes a theoretical result, with Theorem and Proof, showing that Ramsey’s optimal taxation is equivalent to Pigou taxation (…). Suppose that the result is not obvious and has further implications. Then it seems to me that this may be of interest to the readership” of a theory journal.
All this reluctance to have a history article in theory journals illustrates very well the humanities-science cultural divide and the science wars discussed by Roy Weintraub (2007). A question that emerges out of this set of arguments against having a history article in theory journals is what kind of “historical” analysis one has to write in order to fall within the mission of theory journals. If one with theorem and proofs and with clear interface with policymaking and modeling issues, my fear is that historians are not the ones who will write such pieces (although some may try to), but rather practicing economists interested in constructing a past to the current practices in economics. To use Craufurd Goodwin‘s (2008) argument, this is the use of history of economics as a literature review that was the hallmark of the neoclassical and historical economics and that persists to the present day.
In a world of many specialized journals it is not surprising or senseless to have editors of theory journals advising that history articles be published in history of thought journals. What is a concern is the acute humanities-science divide (that defines what is a proper interface of history with current economics) and the alleged lack of enthusiasm among readers and referees of theory journals. So the main question that remains is how much of a strategy to our field do we have? Should we insist on getting the economists’ attention by publishing in theory journals? How?
P.S.: Caveat: clearly I do not mean to imply that all editors of theory journals have this same position on the matter, nor that it is impossible to publish history of thought articles in theory journals. A significant recent example is Carl Wennerlind’s (short) piece on David Hume published in the Journal of Political Economy in 2005 (which received the best article award in the history of economics in 2006). Moreover, journals like the Journal of Economic Literature are somewhat more open to some kind of historical analysis (more in line with the literature review type).