This article documents the disciplinary exchanges between economists and engineers at Stanford throughout the twentieth century. We outline the role of key scholars such as Kenneth Arrow and Robert Wilson, as well as engineers turned administrators like Frederick Terman. We show that engineers drew upon economic theories of decision and allocation to improve practical industrial management decisions. Reciprocally, economists found in engineering the tools that they needed to rethink production and growth theory (including linear programming, optimal control theory, an epistemology of “application” that emphasized awareness to institutional details, trials and errors and experiments). By the 2000s, they had turned into economic engineers designing markets and other allocation mechanisms. These cross-disciplinary exchanges were mediated by Stanford’s own institutional culture, notably its use of joint appointments, the development of multidisciplinary “programs” for students, the ability to attract a variety of visitors every year, the entrepreneurial and contract-oriented vision of its administrators, and the close ties with the industrial milieu that came to be called the Silicon Valley.
A Century of Economics and Engineering at Stanford
Beatrice Cherrier is a historian of economics at CNRS, THEMA, University of Cergy Pontoise and an associate professor at Ecole Polytechnique. She researches the history of applied economics in the last decades, including the rise of applied fields such as urban and public economics, and macroeconomics. She is also interested in the relationships between the rise of applied work and the changing status of women in economics.
Aurélien Saïdi, trained in economic theory, is the author of several articles on complex macroeconomic dynamics, as well as on the history of macroeconomics. He is an associate professor and a vice president for digital affairs at the University of Paris Nanterre. He currently researches the intellectual, institutional, and political conditions for the development of scientific communities and the production of economic knowledge, in particular in macroeconomics.
Beatrice Cherrier, Aurélien Saïdi; A Century of Economics and Engineering at Stanford. History of Political Economy 1 December 2020; 52 (S1): 85–111. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00182702-8717936
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