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Samuelson, MIT, and the history of postwar economics

Grant number: 16/25651-2
Support type:Research Grants - Visiting Researcher Grant - International
Duration: August 20, 2017 - September 03, 2017
Field of knowledge:Applied Social Sciences - Economics
Principal Investigator:Pedro Garcia Duarte
Grantee:Pedro Garcia Duarte
Visiting researcher: Yann Giraud
Visiting researcher institution: Université de Cergy-Pontoise, France
Home Institution: Faculdade de Economia, Administração e Contabilidade (FEA). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil


World War II was the key development in the history of economics of the 20th century. It was a scientific war that secured the United States as an academic and geopolitical power, receiving a host of European scholars fleeing from authoritarian regimes, and it brought economists in contact to applied mathematicians and statisticians in war projects, with operations research becoming the typical locus for this exchange of expertise. The challenge historians of economics thus face is to provide a rich context in which to place the scientific developments, which include, among many others, how mathematical tools crossed disciplinary boundaries of mathematics and engineering and came into economics; how economics changed in face of the massive expansion of the universities in the US immediately after the Second World War and established itself as one of the dominant discourses in contemporary society; how economic policymaking increasingly became a tool-oriented and technical enterprise, with economists trying to avoid as much as possible value judgments in their advices; the establishment of macroeconomics as a genuine separate area of economics; etc. Within the above mentioned general transformations of economics in the postwar period, the role of the MIT Economics Department is particularly interesting. Although it has not been investigated as much as its counterpart, the Chicago School of Economics, the economics department at MIT is undoubtedly one of the most important places in the making of modern economics. Once a minor social science department located in an engineering school, it quickly became, after the arrival of Paul Samuelson, a very attractive institution for economists. And being MIT an Engineering and Technology Institute is special. Here economics was initially brought to it as a way of teaching humanities to engineering students, and the department was the home for other social sciences before they were institutionalized in their own departments. In this department, Paul Samuelson and a few others were the major advisers in the 1940s, with Charles Kindleberger, Morris Adelman, Robert Solow, Robert Bishop, and E. Cary Brown arriving in the subsequent decade and advising a substantial fraction of the PhD students of the Industrial Economics graduate program. So MIT was part and parcel of the movement to turn economics a technical and mathematical science, and the engineering nexus is most interesting, but not fully explored by historians of economics. Professors Giraud and Duarte are working on a research project analyzing how the relationship between economics and engineering evolved in the last century, particular after World War II. As part of this, they are organizing the 2019 HOPE Conference, which is the basis for the annual supplement of HOPE to be published in 2020. Besides developing and extending this common research project during his visit to FEA-USP, Professor Giraud will offer a mini-course for graduate students on the history of recent economics through the issues of visualization and teaching of economics. He will also interact closely with the group of professors in the history of economics and help to strengthen the international ties of our department. (AU)