History of Postwar Economics: suggested readings (in progress)

Diane Coyle is asking why most history of economics’ narratives end up with Keynes. My response is :

1. No, it’s not. There has been a surge in history of postwar economics research in the past 15 years. The transformation of economics in the Cold War era in now well-understood, and less is know about the 1965-1985 era (a flaw many researchers, including me, are trying to correct).

2. Because this scholarship is fairly recent, there is no textbook that offers a systematic account of the transformation of economics since Keynes. Yet. 3. In the meantime, here’s my own Reader  (to be udpated in the next days). Needless to say, this list is totally biased by my own historiographic preferences, research interests, and personnal affinities. If you feel I should have mentionned such and such brilliant piece of history, or if you need references on another topic, keep calm and comment.

General Readings

-Short version: Roger Backhouse’s Palgrave entry on American economics since 1945. (short and comprehensive)

-Long version: Roger Backhouse’s textbook (economics though from Aristotle to now)

-If you are looking for an international perspective: Marion Fourcade’s comparative analysis of the development of economics in the US, Great-Britain, and France. One chapter per country, waving together technical, theoretical and institutional developments.

-An if you need a transition from interwar pluralism to postwar neoclassicism, here is the introduction of the volume whereby historians of economics crossed over. By Mary Morgan and Malcom Rutherford.

General tip: when interested in a subject, look for “history of …” in the Palgrave Dictionary. Many short and informative entries. Then, go to the History of Political Economy webpage, and seach for a special issue on the topic you’re interested in (IS-LM, economics and the social sciences, econometrics, etc.. List of past conferences here, special issue published the following year. JHET and EJHET also have special issues on various topics. EJHET is an especially relevant source for any query on European economic thinking. 

History of General Equilibrium 

-Short version: Arrow and Debreu dehomogenized (final paper [gated], free draft) by Till Duppe

-Long version: Weintraub and Duppe’s definite history of Arrow-Debreu-McKenzie, its spread and differentiated canonization.

-Another account which emphasized the physical science roots of GE is Ingrao and Israel‘s Invisible Hand. 

-On the relationships of physics to economics, the classics is Phil Mirowski’s More Heat than Light. 

History of Game Theory

Robert Leonard’s account of Von Neumann and Morgenstern’s intellectual journey, from Vienna chessboards to the Theory of Games (1944) and beyond (short version, long version). Nicola Giocoli’s broader and more analytical treatment. He interprets the rise of game theory as a change in the self-image of economics, from a “system of force” to a “system of relation” science. And a more history of science perspective in which game theory is historicized as an interdisciplinary endeavour involving economists, biologists, mathematicians and war scientists. By Paul Erickson. Interestingly, these three books reflect three different trends in the historiography of postwar economics. Giocoli’s review of Leonard’s book makes it very clear. 

History of Behavioral Economics

Fellow blogger Floris Heukelom has just published a sweeping histoy of the BE based on his dissertation. It ranges from Smith and Ricardo’s days to Kahneman and Tversky’s collaboration and ends up with the institutionalization of BE in the 1980s to 2000s. Here’s a helpful review of the book by Erik Angner, who has penned a famous BE handbook entry with Georges Loewenstein.

History of Experimental Economics

Short version: Palgrave entry written by Francesco Guala is a good introduction, and I’m currently reading the dissertation

Long version: Andrej Svorencik’s dissertation on the experimental turn.

History of Macroeconomics

Fellow blogger Pedro Duarte has recently edited a book on microfoundations, which I have discussed here (with a few additional references). On new-classical economics, go to Kevin Hoover’s webpage and help yourself. He has co-organized a witness seminar with Warren Young, whose transcript is here. Young has also written on the making of Kydland and Prescott.   Backhouse and Boianovski have just published a book on disequilibrium economics (see also Rubin’s work on Patinkin).

History of Econometrics

Mary Morgan’s seminal history of econometrics stopped with Haavelmo, but subequent developments are covered in two books by Duo Qin. The first one deals with the 1930-1960 period.The new volume covers advances in econometrics from 1970 onward. Olav Bjerkholt has recently put a stream of papers on the history of the Cowles on SSRN. My favorite history of economics (up to Sims) is Epstein’s, but it has been out of stock for a while. Oeconomia has just published a special issue on the topic. On the rise of quasi-experimental techniques, see Panhans-Singleton.

Economics at MIT

The lastest development in the history of postwar economics. A first collection of essays, edited by Roy Weintraub, is just out.

Economics at Carnegie

One of the trending topics in history of economics. I’ve already listed most recent contributions, from Simon to Modigliani and Muth, Lucas, Cyert and March, at the beginning of this post.

Economics at Chicago

Has always concentrated a lot of attention, with a consequence that there’s already a vast litterature on the subject. Check the companion book, edited by Ross Emmett. Steve Medema has written a lot on Chicago price Theory, and together With Dan Hammond (one of Friedman’s specialist) has edited a reader on the subject. There have been recents attempts to rebuild the history of Chicago Economics, and to balance the hitherto strong focus on Friedman/Stigler. The resulting articles were collected by Phil Mirowksi, Rob Van Horn and Tom Stapleford in 2011.


The irresitible rise of finance theory has been famously told by Justin Fox and many others, and is at the background of Perry Mehrling’s biography of Fisher Black. Its performative character has been analyzed by Donald MacKenzie, and Fabien Muniesa. For more specific topics, see the “Pioneers” collection of essays edited by Geoffrey Poitras and Franck Jovanovic.


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