Economics and Engineering: Institutions, Practices, and Cultures

Economics and Engineering: Institutions, Practices, and Cultures. 2020. Foreword by David Blockley. Edited by Pedro Garcia Duarte and Yann Giraud. Supplement to volume 52 of HOPE. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

"Economics and Engineering: A Foreword," by David Blockley (pp. 1–9). An emphasis on scientific knowing has led to an overcondence in our ability to predict the future and a neglect of the need to control complex and often unforeseen, unintended consequences of our practical actions.

"Introduction: From 'Economics as Engineering' to 'Economics and Engineering,'" by Pedro Garcia Duarte and Yann Giraud (pp. 10–27). The best way to grasp or assess, from a historical standpoint, the presumed transformation of economics into an engineering science might be to turn to the history of how economics and engineering—and the communities who produce them—have interacted in various institutional and national contexts.

Economics and Engineering in Institutional Contexts

"The Wider Context of Samuelson’s MIT Textbook—Depression-Era Discussions about the Value of Economics Education for American Engineers," by Amy Sue Bix (pp. 31–58). Standard histories of economic thought portray Paul Samuelson’s 1948 economics textbook as the first serious attempt at teaching economics to young engineers, but, in reality, many other professors, both in economics and engineering, had extensively addressed that issue before World War II

"Engineering the 'Statistical Control of Business': Malcolm Rorty, Telephone Engineering, and American Economics, 1900–1930," by Thomas A. Stapleford (pp. 59–84). Distinct structural features of telephone engineering in general, and AT&T in particular, created overlaps between the practices of engineering and economics, opening space for Rorty to craft a broader vision for the "statistical control of business" through quantitatively informed management.

"A Century of Economics and Engineering at Stanford," by Beatrice Cherrier and Aurélien Saïdi (pp. 85–111). At Stanford, engineers drew upon economic theories of decision and allocation to improve practical industrial management decisions, while economists found in engineering the tools that they needed to rethink production and growth theory, becoming by the 2000s economic engineers designing markets and other allocation mechanisms

Trading Tools and Practices at the Boundary between Economics and Engineering

"Shotgun Weddings in Control Engineering and Postwar Economics, 1940–72," by Judy L. Klein (pp. 115–42). "Shotgun weddings" between economists and engineers united the classic regulator approach and long-distance telephone communications engineering, nested communication engineering into a statistical mechanics framework, and joined classical optimization theory to the probabilistic theory of stochastic processes.

"The Engineering Tools That Shaped the Rational Expectations Revolution," by Marcel Boumans (pp. 143–67). The rational expectations revolution was based on a change of engineering tools, as it
was Lucas alone who "developed and applied the hypothesis of rational expectations, and thereby . . . transformed macroeconomic analysis and deepened our understanding of economic policy." 

"Research and Development, Testing, and the Economics of Information, 1937–63," by William Thomas (pp. 168–90). The progression of Arrow’s work on information gathering—from formalistic treatments of sequential decision-making to qualitative explorations of the economics of R&D—paralleled the contemporaneous evolution of systems analysis at the RAND Corporation.

"Guy H. Orcutt’s Engineering Microsimulation to Reengineer Society," by Chung-Tang Cheng (pp. 191–217). Microsimulation developed from a product of Orcutt’s dream to build an engineering
Tinbergen-style model into an empirical tool used by practitioners to reengineer society

Economics and Engineering in Professional and National Cultures

"Redistributing Agency: The Control Roots of Spot Pricing of Electricity," by Daniel Breslau (pp. 221–44). The design of electricity markets and the development of a now-common pricing technique was led by engineers who were working on a hybrid that allocated agency among centralized controllers and distributed economic actors, thus blurring the distinction between them.

"Building a National Machine: The Pricing of Electricity in Postwar France," by Guillaume Yon (pp. 245–69). The engineers who managed the public monopoly for the production, transport, and distribution of electricity promoted a distinctive version of the economics and engineering nexus, with the engineer-economists making crucial and lasting decisions on land-use planning for the sake of the rapid growth of the system

"Realities of Formalization: How Soviet Scholars Moved from Control Engineering to the General Theory of Choice," by Ivan Boldyrev (pp. 270–93). A research group created by the control engineer Mark Aizerman at the Institute of Control Sciences in Moscow began studying economics for several reasons, among them Aizerman’s tendency to regularly and entirely reorient his research agenda.

"Technocratic Economics: An Afterword," by Mary S. Morgan (pp. 294–304). Twentieth-century economics can be characterized by two contrasting modes of economic-engineering: the design mode of engineering focused on creating technologies that engineer change, and the tool-based engineering mode of problem-solving.