In the postwar USSR, there were a few scattered research groups engaged in research most closely resembling “Western” mainstream economics. Inspired by the new sciences of the artificial, these groups were able to make important contributions to various fields of economic theory. This article focuses on the story of one group created by the control engineer Mark Aizerman at the Institute of Control Sciences in Moscow. It discusses the origins and the outstanding diversity and dynamics of the group’s research agenda, reconstructs the factors that made Aizerman turn from the cybernetics of mechanical or biological systems to the abstract theory of choice and rationality, and demonstrates how the group was related to—and communicated with—the scholars doing work in social choice, mechanism design, and formal political theory. It also speculates on one missed research opportunity of doing experimental economics—something that, given the ideological and intellectual constraints Aizerman was facing, was hardly possible in the Soviet context, but could have been a synthesis of economics and engineering. The article also discusses a research culture Aizerman created and nurtured in his lab by encouraging research collaboration, sharing ideas, and freely moving across various disciplines.
Realities of Formalization: How Soviet Scholars Moved from Control Engineering to the General Theory of Choice
Ivan Boldyrev is assistant professor of history and philosophy of economics at the Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands. He is a philosopher and a historian of ideas with wide-ranging interests, including the history and philosophy of recent economics, German idealism, and critical theory. He is the coeditor (with Till Düppe) of Economic Knowledge in Socialism, 1945–89 (2020), and (with Ekaterina Svetlova) Enacting Dismal Science: New Perspectives on the Performativity of Economics (2016). Other publications include papers in professional journals and two books: Ernst Bloch and His Contemporaries (2014), and (with Carsten Herrmann-Pillath) Hegel, Institutions, and Economics (2014).
Ivan Boldyrev; Realities of Formalization: How Soviet Scholars Moved from Control Engineering to the General Theory of Choice. History of Political Economy 1 December 2020; 52 (S1): 270–293. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00182702-8718052
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