History of Economic Thought Revival?

11 January 2011 at 1:34 pm 4 comments

| Peter Klein |

More on the AEA meetings: I didn’t attend enough sessions to get a feel for overall directions and trends, but David Warsh (via Lynne) detected a revival of interest in the history of economic thought:

Interesting, too, was the undercurrent to be found in many conversations of interest in the history of economics itself.  History of economic thought — or history of science, if you prefer — is a subject that has all but disappeared in the last thirty years as a topic of major research interest or as a subject of courses in top graduate schools — precisely the period of economic triumphalism.

I certainly can’t prove a resurgence of interest in economics past as it bears upon the present, or even document it beyond a few suggestive facts. The history of thought sessions in the meetings proceeded in their customary grooves — a retrospective on the rational expectations assumption fifty years after it was introduced, Irving Fisher’s The Purchasing Power of Money at one hundred.

But there were portents of change in at least one session on “rethinking the core” of graduate education.  James Heckman, of the University of Chicago, endorsed the possibility of restoring to the graduate curriculum high-level elective courses in the history of economic thought. “People in the past were smart and they made mistakes and had insights,” he said afterwards. “We have sometimes forgotten the insights and we have sometimes repeated the same mistakes.”

An interesting challenge to what Murray Rothbard called the “Whig theory” of science, the view that dominates contemporary research in most of the social sciences.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, History of Economic and Management Thought, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science.

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