Rogoff on the Sorry State of Economic History


Former IMF Chief Economist and Harvard University economist Kenneth Rogoff made an interesting point on “economic history” at the Institute for New Economic Thinking conference.
Reflecting on a book he recently co-authored with Carmen Reinhart titled This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, Rogoff said that despite there being some superb financial scholars in the field like Barry Eichengreen, Christina Romer and others, there was just too little support for the field. He said that it was very rare to see an appointment of economic historians in university departments.
Rogoff said that in blocking the broader rooting of economic historians, “this may be an area where the inward looking nature, the triumphalism of theoretical macroeconomics, has had a little too much influence. History has had a lot to say…when we look at these very rare events [financial crises], very hard to calibrate them on normal data, even if you have the right. . .perfect model.”
I think Rogoff makes an important point here — and after much other discussion at this INET Conference — one does sense the tendency of the economics profession to want to avoid scrutiny and historical challenge.
— Steve Clemons


6 comments on “Rogoff on the Sorry State of Economic History

  1. erichwwk says:

    While I regularly try to read Mark Thoma’s column at, I would not have caught the above without the heads-up of Daniel Mandel and Steve Clemons,the latter who pushes the former’s daily selection of economics postings.
    So…. thanks to both


  2. erichwwk says:

    May be talking in an abandoned closet. But…
    Mark Thoma: “How Mathematics Might Have Caused the Financial Crisis”
    “As we looked around to find courses to cut to make room for the new technical tools that were coming into economics, our mistake was thinking that US economic history and the history of economic thought were the least valuable courses that we offered. In fact, they may be among the most important. There


  3. JohnH says:

    We miss John Kenneth Galbraith, too. He would talk about the structure of the economy and problems inherent in it, not just the horse race that most economists love to follow.
    The country urgently needs to address the widespread rise of shared monopolies, not just banks that are too big to fail, and the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a tiny elite.
    “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” – Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis


  4. Kathleen says:

    Not many folks covering this. Especially our MSM (hello Rachel, Keith) enough stories about Sarah Palin
    Has Aafia Siddiqui


  5. WharfRat says:

    Of course, the death of economic history can be tied
    to a larger trend in the University toward research
    that can secure funding from private entities. See
    for example this article by Princeton’s Anthony
    Hopefully INET is a different type of beast that
    sees the value in original research that is not
    immediately tied to bringing new products to market.


  6. erichwwk says:

    I too lament the respect economic historians get, or more importantly, the study of economic history gets re. to econometrics.
    Another very notable exception is Douglass North (winner of the 1993 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, along with another economic historian, Robert Fogel). Robert Heilbroner and John Galbraith are two other economic historians most folk have at least heard of, before the cult of mathematical economics became the flavor of the era.
    “Mathematics brought rigor to Economics. Unfortunately, it also brought mortis”
    — Kenneth Boulding


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