Malcolm Rorty is best known to historians of economics as the primary organizer and founder of the National Bureau of Economic Research. This article situates Rorty’s interest in economics against the backdrop of his early career in telephone engineering at American Telephone & Telegraph. I argue that distinct structural features of telephone engineering in general, and AT&T in particular, created overlaps between the practices of engineering and economics, and also opened space for Rorty to craft a broader vision for the “statistical control of business” through quantitatively informed management.
Engineering the “Statistical Control of Business”: Malcolm Rorty, Telephone Engineering, and American Economics, 1900–1930
Thomas A. Stapleford is associate professor in the Program of Liberal Studies at the University of Notre Dame, where he works on the history of the human sciences, especially economics. He is the author of The Cost of Living in America: A Political History of Economic Statistics (2009) and coeditor of Building Chicago Economics: New Perspectives on the History of America’s Most Powerful Economics Program (2011). His articles have appeared in the Journal of American History, Isis: Journal of the History of Science Society, and History of Political Economy, among other venues.
Thomas A. Stapleford; Engineering the “Statistical Control of Business”: Malcolm Rorty, Telephone Engineering, and American Economics, 1900–1930. History of Political Economy 1 December 2020; 52 (S1): 59–84. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00182702-8717924
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