MIT and the Transformation of American Economics

MIT and the Transformation of American Economics. 2014. Edited by E. Roy Weintraub. Supplement to volume 46 of HOPE. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

"Introduction: Telling the Story of MIT Economics in the Postwar Period," by E. Roy Weintraub (pp. 1–12). The idea that MIT emerged from "nowhere" to a place of prominence by the mid-1950s is overdetermined, as any one of five or six narratives can "explain" the growing importance of the MIT economics department in the postwar period.

Part 1. Beginnings

"Toward a History of Economics at MIT, 1940–72," by Beatrice Cherrier (pp. 15–44). MIT economics is still endowed with a distinctive identity, although the features associated with it—technicality, a Keynesian bent, and the use of toy models—seem to describe modern economics as it is done everywhere.

"MIT's Opennss to Jewish Economists," by E. Roy Weintraub (pp. 45–59). More than any other elite private or public university, MIT welcomed Jewish economists, thanks largely to its origins as an institute of technology and the socialization of engineers and scientists.

"Paul A. Samuelson's Move to MIT," by Roger E. Backhouse (pp. 60–77). MIT proved to be a highly supportive environment for Samuelson, free of the prejudices that he had faced at Harvard, and it proved possible for Samuelson to use his position at MIT to strengthen economics there.

Part 2. Connections

"The Early Years of the MIT PhD Program in Industrial Economics," by Pedro Garcia Duarte (pp. 81–108). MIT became the place not only for the "mathematical revolution" in economics but also for a new graduate training that emerged in the United States partly as a response to that revolution.

"MIT's Rise to Prominence: Outline of a Collective Biography," by Andrej Svorenčík (pp. 109–33). The emerging picture of MIT reveals a fairly large community of economists who are trained largely by a few key advisers mostly trained at MIT as well, and a large share of its graduates remain in the academy.

"Negotiating the 'Middle-of-the-Road' Position: Paul Samuelson, MIT, and the Politics of Textbook Writing, 1945–55," by Yann Giraud (pp. 134–52). Samuelson's "middle of the road" position is the result of a political negotiation, something he had to come up with to balance conflicting views on economic policy and to address his critics, resulting in a text that was more theoretical than policy-oriented.

"Serving the Institute and the Discipline: The Changing Profile of Economics at MIT as Viewed from Textbooks," by Pedro Teixeira (pp. 153–74). In the department's early years, the production of textbooks responded to the teaching mission of MIT, while in more recent years textbooks produced by MIT-related economists serve to recognize the discipliary prestige of the department.

Part 3. Distinctiveness

"MIT and Money," by Perry Mehrling (pp. 177–97). Money at MIT was always about monetary policy—and about countering monetarism, thus differentiating itself from other institutions.

"In the Kingdom of Solovia: The Rise of Growth Economics at MIT, 1956–70," by Mauro Boianovsky and Kevin D. Hoover (pp. 198–228). Formal modeling of economic growth at MIT was never an abstract enterprise but was always motivated by underlying policy concerns, a respect for empirical results, and a goal of providing illuminating and relevant tools.

"From Exploratory Modeling to Technical Expertise: Solow's Growth Model as a Multipurpose Design," by Verena Halsmayer (pp. 229–51). Combining policy-oriented modeling with traditional neoclassical theory, Solow's model developed as a "design" that came to serve multiple purposes: as a working object, an instrument of measurement, and a teaching object.

"MIT and the Other Cambridge," by Roger E. Backhouse (pp. 252–71). Samuelson's and Solow's interest in capital theory has to be explained in terms of their interest in the techniques (e.g., linear models) that Joan Robinson was using.

"Making Things Technical: Samuelson at MIT," by Harro Maas (pp. 272–94). Samuelson exemplifies for economics the general move of science in the postwar era to define itself as technical, a move that fit well with MIT's teaching and research profile.

"Decisions and Dynamics: Postwar Theoretical Problems and the MIT Style of Economics," by William Thomas (pp. 295–314). Although there were clear affinities between the agenda-setting work of Samuelson and Solow and other activities at MIT, the work of economists at MIT was more indebted to conversations taking place elsewhere in and around the economics profession.

Part 4. Inside MIT

"The Desegregation of an Elite Economics Department's PhD Program: Black Americans at MIT," by William Darity Jr. and Arden Kreeger (pp. 317–36). The effort pursued by MIT to increase the number of black American PhDs in economics was unique and extraordinary, if short-lived.

"The Rise and Fall of Economic History at MIT," by Peter Temin (pp. 337–50). With the disappearance of economic history at MIT, the department is no longer equipped to support recent high-profile attempts by members of the faculty to use economic history to inform present-day decisions.

"On Kindleberger and Hegemony: From Berlin to MIT and Back," by Stephen Meardon (pp. 351–74). Kindleberger's attachment to the idea of "hegemonic stability" was also an instinct that developed from his personal experiences during the Second World War and its aftermath.