Observing the Economy: Historical Perspectives

Observing the Economy: Historical Perspectives. 2012. Edited by Harro Maas and Mary S. Morgan. Supplement to volume 44 of HOPE. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

"Observation and Observing in Economics," by Harro Maas and Mary S. Morgan (pp. 1–24). Taking the double meaning of "observation" as a process and as a result reveals practices of observation in which economists were not only consumers of data but makers of data.

Part 1. The Space of Observation

"Cunning Observation: US Agricultural Statistics in the Time of Laissez-Faire," by Emmanuel Didier (pp. 27–45). Civil service agents aggregated their local observations into data in a task that often required not only patience and precision but cunning intelligence.

"Economic Observation and Measurement in Russia before 1917: Surveying Typicalities and Sampling Totalities," by Vincent Barnett (pp. 46–70). The Russian/Soviet example provides an instructive tale of how the term "observation" has various meanings, as "study" and "introspection" can give way to "surveillance" and "judgment."

"The Economist as Surveyor: Physiocracy in the Fields," by Loïc Charles and Christine Théré (pp. 71–89). The program of observation was for the physiocrats no less important than their theoretical investigations, integrating as they did the results of surveys and agricultural accounts into such works as the Philosophie rurale.

Part 2. The Fragile Dynamics of Trust

"Making Variety Simple: Agricultural Economists in Southern Italy, 1906–9," by Federico D'Onofrio (pp. 93–113). If the political impact of the Faina inquiry, which was beset with problems such as indisputability, remoteness, and packaging, was in the end rather limited, its volumes nevertheless offered a reference point for every researcher interested in southern Italian agriculture.

"Observations in a Hostile Environment: Morgenstern on the Accuracy of Economic Observations," by Marcel Boumans (pp. 114–36). Morgenstern insisted that an observation was scientific only if it was planned, designed, and guided by theory, although in economics the theoretical guidelines were inexact and somewhat intuitive.

"Observing Attitudes, Intentions, and Expectations (1945–73)," by José M. Edwards (pp. 137–59). Three survey programs sponsored by the US Federal Reserve in the mid-twentieth century confronted questions about the purpose of observations, with George Katona arguing for gestalt-type theories of learning.

"Navigating the Shoals of Self-Reporting: Data Collection in US Expenditure Surveys since 1920," by Thomas A. Stapleford (pp. 160–82). BLS survey procedures do not present a clear teleology, reflecting the changing context for expenditure surveys and changing approaches to survey research

Part 3. Relocating Vision

"Field, Undercover, and Participant Observers in US Labor Economics: 1900–1930," by Malcolm Rutherford (pp. 185–205). Out of necessity, labor economists in the first quarter of the twentieth century became field observers and data collectors--sometimes covertly and sometimes by taking on the role of the individuals they were studying.

"Observation through Fiction: Frank Norris and E. M. Forster," by Craufurd D. Goodwin (pp. 206–25). Norris and Forster set out to analyze problematic economic phenomena that were rooted in the complex behavior of economic actors, using fiction to raise issues often neglected in the professional economics literature.

"Observing Shocks," by Pedro Garcia Duarte and Kevin D. Hoover (pp. 226–49). The roots of the rise of shocks are found in Frisch's division of businss cycle models into impulse and propogation mechanisms and in Haavelmo's division of econometric models into deterministic and random components.