Exploring Economic History

with Palgrave Macmillan

Economics and the University

Robert Cord discusses the influence of the university on economic theory and policy.

Historians of economic thought and economists in general spend a good deal of time examining why some theories and individuals become influential. This often means focusing on the originality of a contribution, or indeed on the social and political backdrop within which a contribution is set – in other words, on the ability of a new set of ideas to address some pressing and perhaps acute economic problem. These approaches can of course be highly insightful in assessing success. However, a key deficiency of such a modus operandi is that it often fails to address the many processes and tensions that can and do occur at the level of the individual university, the personnel of which may be fighting internal battles for supremacy at the same time as trying to establish external hegemony. The Palgrave Companions to university-specific economics offer the first systematic attempt to adopt this alternative approach, with each volume dedicated to an institution that can be regarded as having, at one time or another, been a prime mover in shaping economic theory and policy, at the national and/or international level.

Each volume in the series consists of two parts. The first part contains a set of chapters which consider the contributions made by a university where those contributions are considered to have been important. The second, longer part is made up of chapters discussing the contributions of individual economists attached to a particular university. ‘Attached’ is the crucial word. Some economists are easy to identify with a single institution as they may, for example, have spent their whole academic careers at it. Those who have moved from institution to institution are the more difficult cases. One way forward in these instances is to place an economist in the institution where they have carried out their most important work, although this, in its turn, carries with it the danger of disagreement over what ‘their most important work’ was or is perceived to be and how this perception may have changed over time. Another factor perhaps worthy of consideration is an economist’s education: where such an education has been received at the knee of a master, to what extent has this influenced the subsequent work of the noted pupil, and how should this be considered when that pupil has flown the nest and settled at another institution? Questions around leadership style, discipleship, loyalty, access to publication outlets and financing also enter the frame. Given this matrix of possibilities, disagreement about who should be in which volume is inevitable. However, it is hoped that the outrage will not be too great given the overarching goal of the series.

So, which volumes are included? Palgrave has just published the first in the series: The Palgrave Companion to Cambridge Economics. The University of Cambridge has and continues to be one of the most important centres for economics. With nine chapters on themes in Cambridge economics and over 40 chapters on the lives and work of Cambridge economists, The Palgrave Companion to Cambridge Economics shows how economics became established at the University, how it produced some of the world’s best-known economists, including John Maynard Keynes and Alfred Marshall, plus Nobel Prize winners, such as Richard Stone and James Mirrlees, and how it remains a global force for the very best in teaching and research in economics. With original contributions from a stellar cast, The Palgrave Companion to Cambridge Economics provides economists – especially those interested in macroeconomics and the history of economic thought – with the first in-depth analysis of Cambridge economics.

The next volume in the series will be The Palgrave Companion to LSE Economics, to appear in 2018, followed by The Palgrave Companion to Oxford Economics. We then cross the pond to examine the influence of American universities, including MIT, Chicago and Harvard.

Robert A. Cord holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge, and his areas of interest include the history of economic thought and, within this, the history of macroeconomics. His publications include Reinterpreting the Keynesian Revolution (2012) and, as co-editor, Milton Friedman: Contributions to Economics and Public Policy (2016).​​​​​​​

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