During the long Progressive Era (1885–1918) progressive reformers transformed American government, American higher education, and American economics, all in the name of regulating a transformed economy. Economic progress, they argued successfully, required the creation of a powerful regulatory state, guided by expert economic advisers, whose scientific training and credentials were supplied by the nascent research universities. Progressive economists called this new model of economic governance social control. Social control was less a coherent agenda of substantive goals than it was a technocratic theory and practice of how best to obtain them—a progressive method of economic governance. Though American economics cast its vocational lot with the regulatory state, left and right progressive economists offered different visions of the state's role in economic life—managerial and market capitalism, respectively—which arose from differing conceptions of how a modern, industrialized economy functioned, and which evolved with the shifting vocational opportunities presented by recurring crisis. Different visions of the state's role in economic life, in turn, implied different conceptions of what economic experts do.

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