Twentieth-century economics has been characterized as developing an engineering mentality, but this history suggests the importance of distinguishing between a design approach and a problem-solving approach. The former is to be found in economists tasked with reconstructing broken economies (from war or depression) as well as creating “modern” economies in postwar developmental states. The latter is marked by the development of engineering-type tools to solve particular economic problems. While the former mode came into its own in mid-century, and lost confidence in later years, the latter grew up from the early part of the century and maintains its kudos. Accounting for this history depends in part on multiple and sometimes complex intersections between economists and other disciplines. But at least as important were the economic and political events of the century, which molded economists’ experiences and fostered their ambitions to make their technocratic economics usable in the world. This involved more than fashioning “tools” to solve specific problems, more than making “cameras” to describe and analyze the world, but even creating “engines” to help design and run economies.
Technocratic Economics: An Afterword
Mary S. Morgan is the Albert O. Hirschman professor of history and philosophy of economics at the London School of Economics; she is an elected fellow of the British Academy, and an overseas fellow of the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her past research has focused on the history and philosophy of the practices of the social sciences, particularly economics (models, measurements, observation, experiments, and so forth). Her two most recent books are The World in the Model (2012) and How Well Do Facts Travel? (2011). She is currently working on poverty measurement and the performativity of economics in remaking the economic world. She leads a large Narrative Science project: www.narrative-science.org/.
Mary S. Morgan; Technocratic Economics: An Afterword. History of Political Economy 1 December 2020; 52 (S1): 294–304. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00182702-8718067
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