A call to arms for Historians and Economists

[Cross-posted from the History of Economics Playgroundoriginal here]

The Marshall Lectures often provide thought provoking talks and one talk in particular spoke to me looking at the relationship between history and economics: The speaker is a well known historian and he said exactly the right thing:

The only thing that encourages me to open my mouth, other than the pleasure of being on record as a Marshall Lecturer, is the feeling that, in the present state of your subject, economists may be prepared to listen to lay observations, on the ground that they cannot be less relevant to the present situation of the world than some of what they write themselves. Especially, one hopes, they may listen to a layman who appeals for a greater integration, or rather reintegration, of history into economics.

But Eric Hobsbawm said this in the 1980 Marshall lecture – I guess some progress has been made.

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When the U.S. last defaulted

[cross-posted from History of Economics Playgroundoriginal here]

Two things seem to be taken for granted in the current debt-ceiling debate: 1. The parties will come to an agreement on the debt ceiling because 2. These United States have never defaulted and will not start now. Well, Lexington has eight pretty good reasons why an agreement is not inevitable and as far as I can tell, the United States has defaulted in the past, and we need to recognize that fact…

The historical trick revolves around ‘these united states’ because these 50 States are somewhat recent. Hawaii and Alaska would finalize statehood in ’59. but various make-ups of the USA have indeed defaulted or re-structured its debt. Most recently – I think – was in 1933 when the then 48 State government refused to repay the gold annuity it owed to Panama. This was eventually repaid in 1936. I take that observation, and many more from Rogoff and Reinhart’s book (2010: 112-3) which I have commented on earlier.

We can add to that list debt restructuring in 1790, where interest was deferred by the government for ten years. Then there are State cases where the central government allowed default on debts and – I would suggest – implicitly accepts government default: 1841-42 when three States repudiated their debts altogether and 1873-83/4 where ten states were in default, with West Virginia not settling its account till 1919. One could throw in the confederate army debentures and bonds which for various reasons were never repaid to foreign investors, but whether that is legitimate US debt, I am not sure.

My point is simply that the USA has deferred, restructured or cancelled its debt before. If Lexington is right that “compromise may still be possible, but there is nothing inevitable about it,” then on track record you might expect to see an announcement to delay repayment of certain debts, for a long while, on 2 August.

Disdain or paranoia for historians of economics

[Cross Posted from The History of Economics Playgroundoriginal here]

The organizers of Duke’s Summer Institute on the history of economics were so worried that students might be embarrassed to ask their supervisors for a letter of recommendation, or that the supervisors would say it’s a waste of time to study history, so they took a last minute decision to cancel the need for a letter of recommendation. Despite the fact that they offer student stipends of $2,000 and that it is taught by top class academics. In Realpolitik and economic terms, the need for a letter of recommendation is of course a barrier to entry, so maybe it was not an optimal screening mechanism to begin with, but it seems – to me – a little paranoid.

I understand the strategic thinking that we want to encourage students to write part of their thesis with a historical method and even teach history… But doing that behind the supervisors back might not be the most cunning of tactics. Or perhaps there is such widespread disdain for the history of economics that this is the only way. For my part I can’t see that things are this bad State-side – but I may be isolated from the worst of it here in Europe?

Somewhere between INET’s support, the recent crisis and the widespread demands for more history and context in economics teaching, perhaps the way forward would be to play on those strengths, rather than hide our light under a bushel. If we keep hiding, the current moment will pass and we can go back to the tactics of cloak and dagger, but until then, maybe we need a slogan along the lines of: “We’re here, we’re Historians, get used to it!” – Well, maybe not those words exactly, but you get the gist.

We are moving the playground – come join us

[Cross Posted from The History of Economics PlaygroundOriginal here]

Some time ago we got an e-mail from the guys at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) asking if we were interested in shifting our playground in their direction?  Well, as of Sunday we have moved our swings and slides to the brand new ineteconomics.org/blog/playground.

New shiny home, same Kids

So what does that mean? First off we intend to continue in the same vein and in keeping content control we think not much is changing… As usual, new young and restless (and good looking) historians will join as others move on, so the only change is if you are using RSS feeds, then you will need to update it. Other than that, it’s the same playground – only shinier.

OK, so it’s a lot shinier. In April – as you’ll know – they agreed to ship us to the INET conference, and our shiny badges means we  get interviews with people who we would not otherwise bump into. We’ve also been given a video editor who is working on the interview films which will be ready soon! Then they asked if we would be interested in covering the history related INET grants and presentations, meaning travel money and hopefully interesting blog posts. Reality is that we’d be reading this stuff anyway, but somehow INET agreed to fund our trips – I fear they missed our reservation price of zero. That said, we may have missed their reservation price too, as part of the deal includes a $25,000 grant to pay for research, travel and other work related to the blog and history, so expect more archival stories and maybe even a comic. All-in-all, we think this is a great opportunity, and if it all goes haywire, we’ll always have this spot.

So on behalf of everyone, I hope you like where we are taking this, and that you’ll join us. I noticed that Pedro and Yann have already started posting over on ineteconomics.org/blog/playground, so please, come over and play.

getting into the cloud

Hmmm… I had a server backed by moneys and a big university and now plotting a move to this cloud world. Could be good for everyone involved really 🙂