Should-Read: Bob Margo: The integration of economic history into economics

Should-Read: Bob Margo: The integration of economic history into economics: “Many have noticed this long-term integration of economic history into economics…

…The integration of economic history into economics can be seen as an interesting example of the historical evolution of scholarly identity. Fields like macroeconomics, or labour economics, exist entirely within economics. Economic history is different, however, in that the boundaries cut across history and economics. As cliometrics became more important in the 1950s and 1960s, the question of identity became more important too. One argument was that cliometricians should meet certain professional norms in history as well as in economics. Robert Fogel was the most notable advocate, but this was widely accepted by the early cliometricians, not just Fogel. Others argued that economic historians should be gadflies, documenting crucial factors in growth and development that economic theory failed to appreciate. This argument is usually associated with Douglass North but it, too, had many adherents. Taken together, the two impulses created an intellectual space apart from the rest of the economics profession in which the early cliometricians, and their students, could function….

Obviously, the past has useful economics (McCloskey 1976), and it’s a good thing that economists of all persuasions embrace historical evidence more readily than just a few decades ago. As integration continues, however, economic history could become subsumed entirely into other fields. If this were to happen, the demand for specialists in economic history might dry up, to the point where obscure but critical knowledge becomes difficult to access or is even lost. In this case, it becomes harder to ‘get the history right’…


Brad DeLong
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