The Economic Mind in America: Essays in the History of American Economics

By Malcolm Rutherford | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Malcolm Rutherford

This volume contains seventeen papers presented at the 1996 History of Economics Society meetings in Vancouver. All the papers included deal in whole or in part with the history of American economic thought. That so many papers dealing with American subjects were presented at the conference was not an accident. At the History of Economics Society meetings in 1994 Mary Morgan and I started an informal network of historians of economics interested in the history of American economics. We felt this was an area of the history of economics that had received insufficient attention, and which, as a result, contained numerous opportunities for new and interesting research. Moreover, the standard presentation of American economics as derivative and of poor quality was, we thought, misleading. We were concerned that the variety and creativity of American economics, and the links between American economic thought and its particular, non-European, context, should become better appreciated. One of our objectives was to encourage papers on American themes to be given at the Vancouver conference. This volume is the result. The title, The Economic Mind in America, is an acknowledgement of the pioneering work of Joseph Dorfman in this area.

Part I contains a roundtable discussion concerning the “American-ness” of American economics. A.W. Coats was the lead speaker, with William Barber, Ross Emmett, and Anne Mayhew as commentators. Coats begins with a criticism of the excesses of Dorothy Ross’s use of the notion of “American exceptionalism,” but goes on to outline a number of hypotheses that have been advanced to account for the “distinctive qualities and features of American intellectual history.” Some of these hypotheses conflict with each other, but others overlap or are complementary. Concern with practical matters, an eagerness to modify or scrap existing ideas in response to new conditions, and the high degree of specialization and compartmentalization in American academic life are all factors mentioned in a variety of ways in Coats’s outline.

In response, Barber provides a defense of a limited version of the exceptionalist thesis, noting the efforts of Daniel Raymond and others to build an

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