Tag Archives: History of Political Economy

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: https://etherwave.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/the-mit-and-the-transformation-of-american-economics-conference-and-maturation-in-the-the-historiography-of-economic-thought/

David Warsh: http://newenglanddiary.com/david-warsh-mit-the-duffys-tavern-of-american-economics/

Tyler Cowen: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2015/03/facts-about-mit-economics.html

Arnold Kling: http://www.arnoldkling.com/blog/what-im-reading-16/

And, last but not least, Paul Krugman: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/28/empire-of-the-institute/

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: http://hope.dukejournals.org/content/46/suppl_1/1.full.pdf

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.