Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Purge At Amsterdam?

I have noticed that the recent history of economics has been impacted by various purges in various prominent economics departments. I think of, for example, Harvard, Rutgers, and Notre Dame. I had not noticed this one when it was going on:

"For most of my time over ten years at the University of Amsterdam my research and that of my colleagues was strongly supported. (I taught three courses every second fall term, and took leave from Marquette.) Unfortunately over the last two years people in leadership positions there at the faculty of economics decided that the history and methodology of economics (HME) was not important, and in conditions of a financial emergency associated with chronic budget shortfalls closed down the HME group. That included sacking my very accomplished and, in our field, well-respected colleagues Marcel Boumans and Harro Maas, who had been associate professors there for many years, and ending the chair position in HME, which I held, which had been at the faculty for decades. We had six courses in the history and methodology of economics; engaged and enthusiastic students; a research group of up to a dozen people; a master degree in HME; PhD students; and a required methodology course for bachelor students. I do not think there was a better program in the world in our field. We also had great interaction with the London School of Economics, the history of economics people at Duke University, history of economics people in Paris, and the Erasmus Institute for Philosophy and Economics. The HME group was internationally recognized, and attracted students from across the world. Our financial footprint, in fact, was quite small compared to other groups, and by a number of measures of output per person we were more productive than many other research groups at Amsterdam.

Since I fully believe the faculty financial emergency could have been addressed without eliminating the group, I can only put what happened down to prejudice against our field, plus the usual on-going territorial aggrandizing that has been a key factor in the elimination of history of economics from most American universities. It is interesting to me also, that with a few exceptions, members of the economics faculty at Amsterdam made no effort on the HME group’s behalf to resist what happened or even personally expressed regret or concern to those who lost their jobs. I find this reprehensible.

The loss of this program was a blow to our field. There are now few places in the world training PhD students in history and/or methodology of economics. So in the final analysis the situation for economics and philosophy is mixed: considerable achievement with an uncertain future. Great weight, in my view, should be placed on restoring PhD training in the field, something that is being done, for instance, through generous grants from the Institute for New Economic Thinking at Duke University under Bruce Caldwell." -- John B. Davis (2012). Identity Problems: An interview with John B. Davis, Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, V. 5, Iss. 2 (Autumn): pp. 81-103.


Gavin Kennedy said...

You have done a great job in posting this news. I missed it but post it from your Blog on mine. It needs wide distribution.
Keep up the good work.
Gavin Kennedy

Emil Bakkum said...

It is pleasing to read your reference to a Dutch university. However the Netherlands (16 million inhabitants) is only one of the largest among the small European nations. Remember that Europe is much more a loose collection of nation states than the USA. Central Europe is totally fragmented. The EU does not even have a common language. Thus the scientific communities are relatively isolated, and suffer from a lack of scale. There is a huge waste of means. That has consequences for our goals. Imho the main task of Dutch scientists is to remain well informed about what is happening elsewhere. That in itself is difficult enough, but we do a good job at that. We stay close behind the leaders. On extremely rare occasions we excel. In economics I would call Germany the leading European society. They create truly new knowledge. But even Germany is less than half the size of the USA or Japan. Of course I have little idea of what is happening in for instance Spain, Poland or even Italy.

Robert Vienneau said...

Thanks for the comments. If economics were a science following the patterns described by Thomas Kuhn, economists would be more interested in history and methodology when their paradigm encounters a crisis.