Thursday, September 06, 2007

Long Post on Important Subject for All Interested in the History of Economics

To All Readers:

Please read the correspondence below and, if you agree with the comments from Sandra Peart, President of the History of Economics Society (and its most distinguished list of co-signatories among economists), send supporting email/letter with your comments to Dr. Brett (address included in the correspondence).

The closing date for comments in Canberra is 12 September.

I append my supporting letter:

September 6, 2007

Dr. David Brett
Australian Bureau of Statistics

Dear Dr. Brett,

I have appended my name to the letter from the President of the
History of Economics Society, copied below.

Let me make a single point of relevance to the history of economic
theory to today's research in economics related to policy issues of
immediate and pressing concern.

I refer to the causes of economic growth, of desperate interest to
everyone affected by it in the poorer countries and the richer
countries. The area that attracts my research effort is in trying to
untangle the causes of growth from the 15th century to the 18th
century. How did Britain, a tiny island off the continent of Europe
reach growth trajectories that lifted its population within a hundred
years from 1750 to 1850 (during which it founded the New South Wales
Penal Colony, of relevant effect on the activities of your Bureau) to
a continuing rise in per capital incomes across its population?

What follows from this research is what is not happening in poorer
countries, many not growing at all) that did happen in Britain (and
other European countries, including the USA) that is replicable today
in these countries?

That is an example of the work that your pending decision to shift it
to an item in history, archaeology, religion(!) and philosophy.
Economic growth for poor countries is not a contemplative subject; it
is, I submit, a scientific venture of immediate relevance.

Please re-consider your decision.

Yours sincerely

Gavin Kennedy
Emeritus Professor

Heriot-Watt University

From Adam Smith Lives! Blog:

HET and Economic History being threatened "down-under"

Some of you may know of the difficulties facing those who teach and do research in the history of economic ideas in Australia. This note was recently sent to the HES listserve by John Lodewijs. After some initial discussion, I composed the letter below the first note and sent it on behalf of the HES. If you feel inclined to do so, please consider joining in the attempt to reverse the relocation decision. Email your comments and concerns to Dr. David Brett at

Dear fellow HES subscribers,

The study of HET and Economic History
is being threatened in Australia.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics is revising its research
classifications. Effective from 2008 they are removing from the
Economics listings the fields History of Economic Thought and Economic
History. These will no longer be considered as legitimate research
fields in economics. Instead "Economic history" and "history of economic
thought" will be "relocated" into a category of "History, Archeology,
Religion and Philosophy". It is also proposed that in any future
revision HET and Economic History will be eliminated entirely.

This has dire implications for tenure, promotion, research funding and
even our academic positions.

The effect of this, of course, is to legitimate the view that the study
of the history of economics is not itself a part of economics.

We are asked to provide feedback by 12 September but as can be seen
below the ABS person responsible for this says "The Economic History
and History of Economic Thought group will not be reinstated". It's a
done deal. This defeats the whole purpose of getting feedback. Note also
the tone, saying in effect - we are lucky to be classified anywhere, in
the next revision we will be totally eliminated.

There is additional information below. First is a letter that Tony
Aspromourgos has sent and on the public record indicating his dismay at
this development. Then the ABS person responsible for this
reclassification, David Brett, provides his justification for the
deletion of HET and Economic History in a public letter to Alex Millmow,
President of HETSA.

If you feel moved to complain about this, and support your HET
colleagues in Australia, please email your concerns to:

You might also like to let your colleagues in Economic History know
about this.

Thanks for your help.

John Lodewijks
Dear Colleagues,

I'm pasting a letter in below that I've just sent to Dr. Brett at the Australia Bureau of Statistics. If you would like to "sign" the letter and make your views known, please email David Brett at to let him know. Note that time is short so if this interests you please send your notes in soon. Thanks in advance for your support.

Sandra Peart

September 5, 2007

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.

Yours sincerely,

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

September 05, 2007


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