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E. Roy Weintraub is a mathematician who has worked as an economist and has studied "the interconnection between mathematics and economics in the twentieth century" per the wiki link. Fortuitously, I just read an article by a colleague, Bruce Caldwell, who is the director of The Center for the History of Political Economy at Duke and a strong proponent of returning the teaching of the history of economic thought to graduate and undergraduate economics curricula. From Caldwell's article, Adam Smith? Who's he?

It's time to return the history of economic thought to the college curriculum

When I did my graduate work in economics at UNC, the history of economic thought was one of the core classes that all students had to take. We read and studied the great economists of the past-Smith, Malthus, Marx, Marshall, Keynes-whose insights directed (and sometimes misdirected) the progress of our discipline. Things have changed dramatically since then. The history of economic thought has virtually disappeared from the graduate curriculum in the United States, and if current trends continue, in a few decades it will have disappeared from the undergraduate curriculum, as well.


Studying the history of economic thought allows students to see where current theories and ways of thinking came from. In itself that's a useful exercise, but one with further benefits-for as one learns more about the history of one's discipline, a whole new set of insights arise. Despite the alleged "progress" in economic thinking over the past two centuries, it is remarkable how many old ideas (both good ones and not so good ones) keep resurfacing. Students need to understand that the idea that we have nothing to learn from the past-a belief too often expressed by economists-is just a scientistic prejudice.

Students who learn about economics without the benefit of a history of thought course are inclined to assume that what they learn from their textbooks is settled fact. They do not see that the development of ideas always involves argumentation and criticism, something that usually disappears in textbook treatments of issues.

History of economic thought courses also expose students to alternatives to mainstream views. Without such a course, an economics student will probably know little or nothing about the likes of Karl Marx, Thorstein Veblen, Carl Menger or F. A. Hayek.

Furthermore, the history of economic thought course is one of the few places in the economics curriculum where economists connect economics to other disciplines within the social sciences and humanities. As the title of Robert Heilbroner's best-selling book, The Worldly Philosophers, emphasizes, economics was the creation of scholars and thinkers who did not see themselves as "economists," but as people trying to make sense of the social universe in the same way that natural philosophers were trying to make sense of the natural world.

It seems that Duke might be a hotbed of economic sanity. The Center for the History of Political Economy publishes the journal History of Political Economy and five economists who specialize in the field are on the faculty at Duke.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Sep 27th, 2010 at 03:43:45 PM EST
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