The Philips Machine

2 November 2007 at 12:29 pm 5 comments

| Nicolai Foss |

I just spent three days in London. Jolly, indeed. Before going to the London Business School yesterday, where I had a paper expertly demolished and teared apart by Michael Jacobides, I visited for the first, but certainly not last, time the Science Museum on Exhibition Road. The museum is really quite marvelous, and I very strongly recommend it. Even wives are likely to take interest.

I was strolling through the section on computing when — quite unexpectedly, because I had no idea it was on display at the museum — I noticed the famous Philips Machine (here is a pic), essentially a hydro-mechanical analogue computer designed to exhibit the functioning of the economy from the point of a very crude Keynesian perspective. The Machine was constructed by Bill Philips, of Philips curve fame, and was the reason why 1950s macro is sometimes referred to as “hydraulic Keynesianism” (a term that was coined by the brilliant, but now forgotten Alan Coddington). No less than 12 copies were built for teaching purposes and sold to various UK universities. The one that is on display at the museum was resurrected from a LSE lumber room (shockingly, the machine was actually used in teaching until 1992. But then again the macro I was exposed to in the 1980s was no less silly than Philips’ machine). Here is an excerpt from a BBC programme on the machine.

Entry filed under: - Foss -, Ephemera. Tags: .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Vladimir Dzhuvinov  |  2 November 2007 at 2:06 pm

    The laws that govern economics are not that more different than the laws governing physics.

    We, humans, are essentially electrochemical systems. Economics, therefore, can be called the science that studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services by (supposedly intelligent) electrochemical machines.

  • 2. Paul Walker  |  2 November 2007 at 6:20 pm

    Bill Phillips was a New Zealander and some years ago the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) rebuilt one the Philllips machines. By the late 1960s the two original Moniac machines were left unused in the basement of the LSE. They stayed there until 1987 when the LSE donated one of the Moniacs to NZIER, where it was restored. Dr Alan Bollard, the then Director of NZIER, and present Reserve Bank governor, was instrumental in finding the machine at LSE and organising a fundraising drive to relocate it back to NZIER. The machine is now on loan to the Reserve Bank museum in Wellington.

    See here for more.

  • 3. jeremy hunsinger  |  3 November 2007 at 4:25 pm

    Interestingly, Terry Pratchett’s new book Making Money features a Philip’s machine a central plot device. The theory, following Pratchett’s narrative determination motif, is that as the machine get’s closer to modeling the actual economy, it becomes the perfect model, which then when changed changes the economy accordingly.

  • [...] The Philips Machine « Organizations and Markets: I was strolling through the section on computing when — quite unexpectedly, because I had no idea it was on display at the museum — I noticed the famous Philips Machine (here is a pic), essentially a hydro-mechanical analogue computer designed to exhibit the functioning of the economy from the point of a very crude Keynesian perspective. The Machine was constructed by Bill Philips, of Philips curve fame, and was the reason why 1950s macro is sometimes referred to as “hydraulic Keynesianism” (a term that was coined by the brilliant, but now forgotten Alan Coddington). —— [...]

  • 5. Sudha Shenoy  |  5 November 2007 at 9:29 am

    “We humans are essentially electrochemical machines”. — What _specific_ electrochemical changes in the electrochemical machine labelled ‘The Prophet Muhammad’ produced the thing labelled ‘The Koran’? Likewise for the machine called ‘Racine’ & the thing termed ‘Phaedra’? Etc?

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