Division of labour was common knowledge by the 1770s

I always think of Adam Smith when I hear the term 'division of labour' - but I'm being cured of this by reading a bit more about Britains late 18th century in Jenny Uglow's The Lunar Men. A very good read on industrialists and doctors, it remarks on Matthew Boulton's (think steam engine / manufacturing) explanation to Lord Warwick (in 1773) that it is ithe seperation of processes which allow British manufacturers to compete with continental Europe. So Adam Smith's comments were not so much brilliant discovery, but rather explanation of well established fact: Read more

History of Economics Journals in SSCI - a correction

In a recent post I wrote: "I am sure it will not take long before Journal of the History of Economic Thought (Cambridge Uni. Press) makes that list [Thompson Reuters, Social Science Citation Index]." I was wrong, the journal has made the list. The error is compounded because History of Economic Ideas is also on SSCI. Read more

Between science and history

Last Friday, philosophers from the University of Leiden hosted the symposium ‘Between Science and History,’ in an attempt to figure out what the differences are between practicing scientists’ use of history and historians use of history. The organizers had conjured up the nice experiment of letting a scientist and a historian in one session give a talk on a famous historical figure – Einstein, Darwin, Christiaan Huygens. (Plus there were a few idiosyncratic talks, interesting in other respects, but let me leave those out here.) Read more

Three questions to Ivan Moscati: Historicizing Choice Theory

Ivan Moscati is one of the most exciting voices in the historiography of decision theory. In 2007 he took the field by surprise with two important, widely cited, and deservingly prize winning articles: Early Experiments in Consumer Demand Theory, 1930-1970; and History of Consumer Demand Theory: 1930-1970. Read more

Let Us Praise Famous Men, or why we must praise them...

Steven Shapin is visiting the UK. For those unfamiliar with the history and sociology of science, he is one of the giants of the field. From the 1970s he has been in the thick of the action: a protagonist in the making and affirmation of the Edinburgh School; making the study of place and practice central features of the concerns and efforts of historians of science. He has always been ahead, leading, shaping (pardon the pun).   Read more

Contextualizing one and other @ ESHET 2012

My attempt at a double riddle. "I find familiar faces only in unfamiliar places. Who am I? And whom are the faces?" The answer to the first is, I am an academic, to the second, my conference buddies.  Read more

Let me tell you everything

Our usual problem in history (of economics) is a lack of information. Archival sources, if available at all, always present gaps of correspondence between people you just know should be there, and never contain that vital review report, or the minutes of that one crucial meeting. Moreover, if the people you write about are alive and willing to talk, it turns out they’re only human: they’ve forgotten the vast majority of their past, mix up events and people, mistake a recollection they once read for their own memory, or even willfully rewrite history. All too bad, although it gives us the possibility, perhaps even obligation, to speculate, interpret, and fill in. And then of course spend hours and hours discussing with one another whether we have done so correctly. Read more

Relativist versus absolutist history of economics

I don’t seem to be able to fully grasp Mark Blaug’s distinction between a relativist and an absolutist approach to the history of economics – first introduced in Economic Theory in Retrospect (1962) – and that is a source of much frustration. At first sight, the distinction seems obvious enough. Relativist historians emphasize the social, political, personal etc context in which economic ideas were developed; absolutist historians view history as a sequence of Great Economists building on and/or refuting each other’s theories. Obviously, most histories of economics use a bit of both. Read more

Life Among the Econ: Talking history with Axel Leijonhufvud

Like many economists, I have enjoyed Axel Leijonhufvud’sLife among the Econ” and nodded appreciatively when he described the social classifications of the Econ as “Grads, Adults and Elders” and chuckled when the young grad tries to impress the elders of the ‘dept’ through adept ‘modl’ building; so when the man himself was holding a glass of champagne and chatting with me at the INET conference, I had to ask how he got that paper started. Read more

Feelings Offstage

INET Berlin 2012 - back home again. On stage, it’s been a huge amount of claims, assertions, and arguments about what went wrong, about what exactly happened, about why this time was different, about what will certainly happen, and about what remains deeply uncertain, about what “we” shall do about it, about what “we” could do better. And despite the many uses of “we” I felt little addressed, and will not remember much of it, I’m afraid.