The Place of the History of Economic Thought in Mainstream Economics, 1991-2011

journal_of-the-history-of-economic-thoughtThis paper, written with my friend Pedro Duarte, offers a bibliographic survey of the literature in the history of economic thought (HET) in eight major economics journals, using the JEL classification to retrieve and analyze the relevant literature. Our study shows that, though contributions to HET are still found in top economics journals, the rate of publication of such papers has become increasingly uneven, and the methods and narrative styles they adopt are remote from those used by historians of economics. We show that the widespread idea that historians should address current economists by using their (mostly mathematical) tools and techniques is hardly present in mainstream journals, and discuss the role of editors and editorial boards of the different journals we survey in shaping these changes over time. We conclude that historians should focus on doing good work on their own, rather than try to figure out what the economists’ preferences are, and undertake research accordingly.

Footnote 1/ The articles comes with supplementary materials (a new feature of JHET).

Footnote 2/ The title is a tribute to Roger Backhouse’s excellent paper “The Transformation of U.S. Economics, 1920–1960, Viewed through a Survey of Journal Articles.”

HISRECO 2017 in Dumont d’Urville

UPDATE: Of course, the following statement was an April Fools hoax. The next HISRECO conference will be organized by Verena Halsmayer at the University of Lucerne in April 21-22 2017. The call for paper is here. Deadline for submissions is October 14th, 2016. 

Dumont d'UrvilleFollowing the strong enthusiasm generated by the latest edition of the HISRECO conference, held in Sao Paulo, on March 14-15 2015, the organizers of the meeting, Pedro Duarte (University of Sao Paulo), Yann Giraud (University of Cergy-Pontoise) and Joel Isaac (University of Cambridge) are delighted to announce that the next Hisreco conference will be held on May 16-17 2017 at the Dumont D’Urville station in Adélie Land, with the cooperation of the CNRS-funded « French Polar Institute Paul-Émile Victor ».

The past conference in Brazil made us realize that the quality of discussions was much better when researchers are located in unfamiliar environments. In addition, because as defenders of the science studies framework we strongly believe that the production of knowledge is tied to specific cultural, social and even climatic settings, we are interested in seeing what kind of knowledge creation could result from extreme meteorological conditions (in May, the average temperature in  this part of Adélie Land is between 20° and 15° below freezing, with strong winds).

Because this will be a very special event and because we have some serious space constraints – the icebreaker L’Astrolabe will be reserved especially for the trip, free of charge, departing on April 1st from Hobart, Tasmania–, we ask people who are interested in the conference to get back to us as soon as possible with a proposal of no more than 500 words. Contributions dealing with the history of the economic study of climate change in Polar Regions will receive special attention. Please note that the trip requires good health condition. People with special dietary constraints, such as vegetarians, will not be considered. Before applying, please have a look at the following instruction video.

We are also delighted to announce that our keynote speaker this year will be Stanley Fish and we thank our sponsors: the French CNRS, the History of Economics Society, as well as Ben and Jerry’s.

Yann Giraud, on behalf of the organizing committee : Pedro Duarte, Yann Giraud and Joel Isaac

HISRECO 2016 in São Paulo


Left to right: Y. Giraud, P. Duarte and T. Vogelgsang

The 10th History of Recent Economics (HISRECO) conference was held at the university of São Paulo on March 14-15 2016. Though I only joined the organization after a few years of operation – the conference had been funded in 2007 by  Roger Backhouse, Philippe Fontaine and Tiago Mata and I joined the team in 2010 -, I must say that I did not think it would make it to its tenth edition. A few years back, and though each edition had its share of great contributions, I felt that we had exhausted our topic, having received most of those we deemed to be the main contributors to the history of postwar economics.



The audience at Hisreco 2016, São Paulo

This year proved me wrong. In his contribution, Philippe Fontaine depicted the rise of “another history of economics”, one which is written by people who have not been trained – like myself – as economists: historians, sociologists and political scientists whose take on economics and/or the economy contribute to the renewal of  the conversation. This is not exactly old news. Hisreco has always been inclined to give a prominent place to those non-disciplinary historians of economics. What has changed, though, is that during this year’s meeting, I did not feel any gap between the community of economists-historians and those who do not come from the traditional “history of economic thought” culture. Topics such as the relations between economics and neighboring disciplines, between theorizing and policy practices, between facts and theories, between macro and micro, as well as accounts of neoliberalism during the postwar period were discussed and debated with a common language. All of the researchers who participated in the conference are interested in doing the archives, and more generally in talking about economics, not as a a mere repository of past analyses, but as a set of discursive practices, embedded in specific communities and cultures.



First row (left to right): Marcel Boumans, Ted Porter, Joel Isaac, Leonardo Nunes, Camila Orozco Espinel, Tobias Vogelgsang, Yann Giraud, Pedro Duarte, Erich Pinzon Fuchs. In front (l. to r.): Philippe Fontaine, Tiago Mata and Luke Messac.

This is not to say that all researchers in the history of economics are now fond of the frameworks used in science studies but at least some of that language has made its way in all of the contributions we had at the conference. On the other hand, those who do not come from the HET tradition are increasingly inclined to include in their narratives a fair treatment of the kind of accounts that economists have given of their past. For instance, in Luke Messac’s history of health policies and economics in Malawi or in Joel Isaac’s depiction of “property rights economics”, internalist accounts are not taken as granted but are themselves part of the story that is told. In fact, members of the audience who are not familiar with the curriculum vita of our guests may have had difficulties in trying to guess whether Ted Porter, Tobias Vogelgsang, Marcel Boumans, Camila Orozco Espinel, Erich Pinzon Fuchs or Tiago Mata work in an economics or a history/STS/sociology department.


Marcel Boumans and Bruno Damski

Pedro Duarte, who highly succeeded in the task of hosting and co-organizing the conference, had also conceived a poster session with some Brazilian graduate students. This proved to be a very nice feature of the meeting, though one that is not likely to be transposed easily to other places. History of economics seems to be subject worth of attention in Brazil, as attested by the size of the attendance, the biggest I have witnessed in recent years. In addition, Pedro told me that the USP website, which streamed the event online, had 192 views. This all makes me quite positive about future conferences. This is the first time since I joined the organizing committee that I can project myself easily several years in the future. But this one was definitely special. I even came up with a new moto for Hisreco: “unearthing the future of the recent past of economics, one caipirinha conference at a time”.


9th History of Recent Economics (HISRECO) Workshop – 29 May 2015

Cartoon by Jason Lutes, originaly published in  the New York Times in 2009.

Cartoon by Jason Lutes, originally published in the New York Times in 2009.

UPDATE. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Joel Isaac will not be able to attend the workshop. Instead, Maxime Desmarais-Tremblay will be talking about Musgrave’s contribution to public goods theory.

The 9th History of Recent Economics (HISRECO) Workshop will be held at the University of Cergy-Pontoise (Salle des Thèse), on May 29th, 2015.  It will comprise five contributions aimed at understanding better postwar economics and social science. Joel Isaac, from the University of Cambridge, will offer a historian’s view on the concept of monopoly (spoiler alert: he will argue that there are actually two concepts of monopoly); Adam Leeds, who is currently visiting the Center for the History of Political Economy at Duke University, will study the birth of mathematical economics in Soviet Russia; Serge Benest, a PhD Candidate at ENS Cachan, will give an account of the early years of the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales, based in part on a study of the archives at the Rockefeller Archive Center; Matthias Schmelzer, a postdoctoral researcher at the Paul Bairoch Institute of Economic History at the University of Geneva, will study the origins of the critique of economic growth at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; last but not least, Pedro Duarte, from the university of Sao Paulo, will analyse the role of models and facts in Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium models. These contributions will show that the history of recent economics can be studied from many different perspectives and will surely convince attendants that it is a subject worth pursuing. Also, this workshop will mark a turning point in the history of HISRECO. Next year should be different, but I can’t write much more at the moment. The full program can be downloaded below. Those who are interested in attending should feel free to contact me at yann.giraud[at] The HISRECO workshop is organized by Roger Backhouse (University of Birmingham), Philippe Fontaine (ENS Cachan) and myself and it is funded by the International Research Network CNRS “History of Recent Social Science”.

Hisreco 2015 program

MIT and the Transformation of American Economics

MIT and the Transformation of American Economics

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My copies of MIT and the Transformation of American Economics, the special issue of that ‘niche journal’* called History of Political Economy, have just arrived at my office. As I previously explained, this volume has been edited by E. Roy Weintraub and it contains (among other contributions) my “Negotiating the ‘Middle-of-the-Road’ Position: Paul Samuelson, MIT and the Politics of Textbook Writing, 1945-55” paper.

So far, the reactions have been really positive, as exemplified by the following blog entries:

Will Thomas:

David Warsh:

Tyler Cowen:

Arnold Kling:

And, last but not least, Paul Krugman:

So, do as Krugman told you, and get your copy at Duke University Press!



* according to a recently received grant submission report!

Negotiating the ‘Middle-of-the-Road’ Position: Paul Samuelson, MIT and the Politics of Textbook Writing, 1945-55

Paul-Samuelson-Book21It is a great pleasure for me to have this paper published in a special issue of History of Political Economy devoted to MIT and the Transformation of American Economics. Not only will this volume please all those who are interested in the history of one of the most important institutions in the development of modern economics but I also believe that these contributions, taken as a whole, will help draw attention to a number of new narrative trends in the history of economics, using archival sources as well as quantitative data. It contains a number of contributions written by younger scholars – all good friends – whose work has accompanied me over the past decade or so and who are, I believe, beginning to get the recognition they deserve. It is an honor to be there with them, as well as with some of the finest researchers in the history of economics. I could not thank Roy Weintraub enough for putting such a great team of contributors together. Here is the abstract of my paper:

Previous contributions to the history of economics have tried to assess Paul Samuelson’s political positioning by tracing it in the subsequent editions of his famous textbook Economics. By contrast, this article depicts the making of Economics itself as a political process. It argues that the “middle-of-the-road” position that Samuelson adopted in the book was consciously constructed by the MIT economist, with the help of his home institution and his publishing company McGraw-Hill, in response to conservative criticisms of the textbook and pressures from members of the Corporation—MIT’s Board of Trustees. Though Samuelson first intended to write a policy-oriented textbook with a strong Keynesian inclination, the changes he introduced, while keeping most of the substance, made it a more theoretically inclined text, in which policy recommendations were presented in a softened fashion. These events, far from being anecdotal, should rather be seen as foundational in the identity of what historians are trying to identify as “MIT economics.”

For those who would like to know what to expect from the volume, they can download Roy Weintraub’s introduction at:

Economics for the Masses: The Visual Representation of Economic Knowledge in the United States (1910-45)


Map drawn by Otto Neurath for the March 1932 issue of Survey Graphic

This is a paper I wrote with my friend and colleague Loïc Charles (Université of Saint-Denis and INED). Here is the abstract:

The rise of visual representation in textbooks is an important feature of the development of the economics discipline after World War II. We argue that it was preceded by a no less significant rise of visual representation in the larger literature devoted to social and scientific issues. During the interwar period, editors, propagandists, and social scientists encouraged the use of visual language as an important means of spreading information and opinions about the economy to a larger audience. We explore different yet related aspects of this development by studying the use of visual language in economics textbooks intended for nonspecialists, in periodicals such as the Survey (a monthly magazine intended for an audience of social workers), and by various state departments and agencies during the Roosevelt administration. We focus on two types of visuals that developed rapidly and had a strong relationship with the social sciences in this period: photographs and pictorial statistics. In the last part, we discuss how visualizations that were created as part of a critical program of more abstract forms of social theorizing (e.g., classical and marginal political economy) were transformed into an engine for New Deal political propaganda in the 1930s.

It is now published in the December 2013 issue of History of Political Economy.

Legitimizing Napkin Drawing: The Curious Dispersion of Laffer Curves (1978-2008)


The Neo-Laffer curve, drawn by Martin Gardner in Scientific American (1981)

The Laffer curve is a graphical representation of how government revenues vary with the level of taxation. Allegedly, it was first drawn on a cocktail napkin by one of US President Ronald Reagan’s advisors in the 1970s.  Since then, it has been routinely reproduced in economics textbooks. This article provides an historical account that shows a sharp contrast between the formal triviality of the curve and the complexity of its circulation through various communities of economists, policy advisors, propagandists, and journalists. In this paper, I show that the dispersion of the Laffer curve presents two peculiarities: first, unlike many other diagrams used in economics, popular instantiations of the Laffer curve preceded its “academization” in professional economics; second, in spite of numerous transformations in the process of circulation, the curve’s canonical presentation as a symmetrical, bullet-like diagram was reinforced over time. I attribute these peculiarities to the community dynamics that sustained and circulated the curve.

This article is now published as a book chapter in Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited, edited by Catelijne Coopmans, Janet Vertesi, Michael Lynch and Steve Woolgar and published by MIT Press.

History of ‘Economics as Culture’ 3rd Annual Workshop

3rd Annual Workshop, Friday April 8th, 2011

History of ‘Economics as Culture’

(Histoire Culturelle des Savoirs Économiques)
Université de Cergy-Pontoise,
Les Chênes II, Salle des Thèses




From Otto Neurath, Gesellschaft und Wirtschaft – Bildatlas, 1930, p. 74

This workshop, which is organized on behalf of THEMA (CNRS UMR 8184), EconomiX (CNRS UMR 7235) and the Cachan History of Social Science Group (H2S), brings together scholars from different disciplines to discuss from an historical vantage point, the place of economics in our culture. Below are some of topics that exemplify what will be at issue :

– To consider the interactions between art, literature and economics ;
– To discuss the interactions between cultural or artistic objects such as magazines, books, maps, photographs, paintings, graphs and economic thinking and to consider economic texts as cultural items and to reflect upon the consequences their physical form had on their reception.
– To consider economics as part of cultures (political, commercial, scientific, etc.) of past (including very recent past) societies ; in particular, to discuss the economic representations (or culture) of specific social groups such as merchants, workers, businessmen, etc.


10:00-10:30 am : Welcome, coffee and pastries
10:30-11:30 am
Christopher Burke
(University of Reading – Dept of Typography and Graphic Communication)
The Linguistic Status of Pictorial Statistics
Emma Helena Minns
(University of Reading – Dept of Typography and Graphic Communication)
Picturing Soviet Success : Soviet pictorial statistics 1931-1940
12:30-2:00pm : Lunch
2:00-3:00 pm
Sophie Cras
(Université Paris I – Dept of art history)
“Artistic Shareholding” Experiments in the 1960s
3:00-4:00 pm
Arnaud Orain
(Université de Bretagne Occidentale – Dept of economics)
Success in, or with the help of Rhetoric and Belles-Lettres ?
A Case Study of Eighteenth Century French Economists
4:00-4:15 pm : Coffee Break
4:15-5:15 pm
Gül Karagoz – Kizilca
(SUNY Binghamton and Ankara University)
Bringing the Public into the Arena of Politics :
Ottoman Newspapersand the Quest for Fiscal Responsibility for an Emerging Voice of “the Public”

If you plan to attend the workshop, please contact the organizers : Yann Giraud (yann.giraud [at] or Loïc Charles (charles [at]

How to get to the University of Cergy-Pontoise (from Paris)

Famous Figures and Diagrams in Economics

Roger Backhouse and myself have written an entry on the Circular Flow Diagram in this recently published book on diagrams and figures in economics, which reads like a dictionary. Some of the other entries study economic diagrams from a historical point of view while some others offer a more analytical approach and attempt to appraise the usefulness of these figures for current practitioners. The introduction by the Editors, Mark Blaug and Peter Lloyd, is a good starting point for economists who want to understand how visual representation has been useful in constructing and diffusing economic knowledge (In addition, they kindly cite my Samuelson paper!). Here is what the Edward Elgar website says about the book:

Edited by Mark Blaug, Professor Emeritus, University of London and Professor Emeritus, University of Buckingham, UK and Peter Lloyd, Professor Emeritus, Department of Economics, University of Melbourne, Australia

This is a unique account of the role played by 58 figures and diagrams commonly used in economic theory. These cover a large part of mainstream economic analysis, both microeconomics and macroeconomics and also general equilibrium theory.

The authoritative contributors have produced a well-considered and definitive selection including some from empirical research such as the Phillips curve, the Kuznets curve and the Lorenz curve. Almost all of them are still found in contemporary textbooks and research. Each entry presents an accurate and concise record of the history of the figure or diagram, including later developments and any controversy that arose in its development. As a whole, the book highlights how the use of geometric methods has played a central part in the development of economic theory and analysis; as a method of discovery, more commonly as a method of exposition and occasionally as a method of proof of propositions in economic theory and analysis.
This highly anticipated book will appeal to theorists in microeconomics or macroeconomics, scholars of economic theory and analysis, as well as students in microeconomics, general equilibrium theory or macroeconomics at the advanced undergraduate or graduate level who want a definitive account of some figure or diagram. Historians of economic thought and methodologists will also find this book an invaluable resource.

‘A picture is said to be worth a thousand words. A picture can easily be worth two or three equations, and it is certainly more memorable. I can draw and use an Edgeworth box more quickly than I can write down its formulas. There is a vast amount of economics packed into the 58 diagrams and expert commentaries in this unique book. Take it with you to your favourite desert island. All you need is a sandy beach and a pointed stick.’ – Robert Solow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US
‘This book is a goldmine of information and interpretation for historians of economics, and thoughtful economists of all kinds. The origin and evolution of important figures and diagrams in economics will now be instantly at their fingertips. The authors of the entries are a galaxy of distinguished economists and historians whose accounts can be trusted. One must ask why no one has put together such a collection before.’– Craufurd Goodwin, Duke University, US