The Australian Bureau of Statistics, that's who.
Dr. David Brett
Australian Bureau of Statistics
Dear Dr. Brett,
We urge you to reconsider the decision to “relocate” “economic history” and “history of economic thought” into the “History, Archeology, Religion and Philosophy” category of the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Such a relocation will carry with it serious implications for tenure, promotion, and research support for economists who work in the history of economic thought and economic history. Looking to the future, this decision will mean that fewer professors will be versed in the historical approach to economics.
The result will be costly both for the economics profession as a whole and also for the students we teach. The history of economic thought has always been an important component of the literature on economics. It has shown the richness of the roots of economic theory and provided a base for the debate and discussion of the competing schools of economic ideas.
A relocation of the History of Economic Thought and Economic History will privilege technical approaches over the literary approach. We suggest that economics needs both approaches. Senior figures in the profession accept this. At the 2007 History of Economics Society annual conference, Nobel laureate, James Buchanan gave the Distinguished Visitor Lecture, “Let Us Understand Adam Smith”. That lecture will be published in the Society’s journal, Journal of the History of Economic Thought¸ published by Cambridge University Press. It should be noted that a second Nobel laureate, Vernon Smith, was on the 2007 HES conference program as well and that Vernon Smith has also given the HES Distinguished Visitor Lecture in the past.
In recent years the mathematical and quantitative sides of economics have been emphasized at the expense of areas such as the history of economic thought. There is, however, much evidence of growing interest in the History of Economic Thought and Economic History as research areas at the graduate level. The Society supports a young scholars program at its annual conference; each year, the number of applications increases and we now receive many more applicants for support than we can fund.
As additional evidence that senior members of the economics profession support the historical approach, we note that Nobel laureates Kenneth Arrow, Ronald Coase and Paul Samuelson welcomed the establishment of the European Journal of the History of Economic Thought in 1992 and Paul Samuelson is a member of the editorial board of the journal. The major history of economic thought journals, EJHET, HOPE, and JHET, all publish fine scholarly articles and have included contributions by Samuelson, Buchanan, Debreu, Klein, Solow Simon and Arrow.
Though the point is obvious, we cannot emphasize enough that these are senior economists, as opposed to researchers in “Philosophy, Religion, and Culture”. Though there are of course writers in these latter areas who also take an interest in the history of economic ideas and economic history, our strength lies primarily within the economics discipline, itself.
The case must be also made for continued support of the Economic History and History of Economic Thought on the basis of the mission of teaching undergraduate economics majors. The typical economics professor today has had little training in moral reasoning or civic engagement, and his or her interests are narrowly defined by formal modeling and statistical testing. This means that the economics major – absent the historical approach – is becoming less and less appropriate for students interested in business or public policy. At the undergraduate level, economics students increasingly become familiar with techniques they rarely understand. At the national level in the United States, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) has strenuously made the case for increased breadth in our undergraduate education. An education in economics that includes room for historical approaches to economic thinking, falls squarely within the AAC&U recommendations and offers students opportunities for applied moral reasoning and policy analysis.
Indeed, if we to lose EH and HET as part of economics, we can expect that a professoriate trained with PhDs in economics will find it difficult not only to teach economics majors, broadly conceived, but also to communicate economic ideas to students in introductory courses who are there to meet general education requirements. The resulting increased narrowness of graduate training in economics will make it even less likely that new PhD’s will be able to teach introductory courses that have the breadth and context to reach students who aren't necessarily interested in the major but who wish to learn economics as part of a liberal education program. As a consequence, the economic literacy of the citizenry itself will suffer.
For all these reasons, we urge you to reconsider your decision.
Sandra Peart, President, History of Economics Society, Dean, Jepson School of Leadership Studies, University of Richmond
Humberto Barreto, HES Electronic List Moderator, Professor of Economics, Wabash College
Brad Bateman, HES Past President, Provost and Executive VP, Denison University
Evelyn Forget, HES Vice-President, Professor and Academic Director, Community Health Sciences, University of Manitoba
Wade Hands, HES Past President, Professor of Economics, University of Puget Sound
Steven Horwitz, HES Executive Committee, Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics, St. Lawrence University
Thomas (Tim) Leonard, HES Secretary, Economics, Princeton University
David M. Levy, HES Executive Committee, Professor of Economics, George Mason University
Maria Cristina Marcuzzo, HES Executive, Direttore del Dipartimento di Scienze Economiche Università di Roma "La Sapienza"
Perry Mehrling, HES past Vice-President, Professor of Economics, Columbia University