Why economics needs the history of economic thought

My reason for being on the road and in Montreal is to attend the American History of Economic Society meetings. I wrote my Defending the History of Economic Thought in response to attempts to remove HET from within the economics classification and place it in some remote category as far from economics itself as they could arrange. In Australia (2007) it was to be, “History, Archaeology, Religion and Philosophy” while it Europe (2011) it would have been, “The Study of the Human Past: Archaeology, History of Memory”. If you had therefore been studying HET, you would not have been studying economics. Your papers also would not have been HET. As near death as HET already is, over the precipice it would have gone.

For HET has enemies everywhere. For the makers of the Classification Codes at the OECD, because the history of economic thought was “history”, neatness demanded HET be included as part of the humanities with other types of history, not with economics in the social sciences. But the more I became involved, the more it turned out that the mainstream of the profession wants HET out of economics because, so far as they are concerned, it gives legitimacy to alternative approaches to economic theory, approaches such as my own, which is seen as part of the “heterodox” tradition rather than the orthodox, orthodox like Y=C+I+G. For the mainstream, this is one way to get rid of the competition. Competition may be fine in theory, but not so much in practice.

But the odd part turned out to be that the elite of the HET establishment were also actively seeking this change. Because so much of HET is made up of people who think the mainstream is useless – uninteresting questions, badly answered – there is a push at the very top of the HET executive (its current president, for one) to turn HET into the history and philosophy of science. No more of these Austrians, or post-Keynesians, or Institutionalists, or Sraffians, or John Stuart Mill classicals. Out with the lot and HET can be a study of the sociology of knowledge. The American Society is at the centre of this attempted shift, and my efforts to preserve HET within economics and then write a book about it is resented in a way you would not believe, or at least I would not have. Just think of them as the equivalent of global warmists and you will get some sense of what they think about what I wrote. If you think my sweet little book on defending HET has had a series of lovely reviews within HET journals, you would not be right. Astonishing for me. I suppose I should not have been surprised but I have been.

So today I will present in defence of my book. Will let you know how it went later.

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