This update today, from John Lodewijks in Australia:
Time is running out for us but here are 3 more emails that may put extra
pressure on the ABS:
1. A wonderful letter from Nicos Theocarakis on behalf of the HET and
EH community in Greece.
2. An article from Steve Kates that will appear in today's Australian
Financial Review - equivalent of your Wall Street Journal.
3. A letter I wrote to the boss of the ABS.
The HET and EH community in Greece will send tomorrow the following
letter to Dr Brett joining the voices of our colleagues abroad.
University of Athens
September 11, 2007
Dr. David Brett
Australian Bureau of Statistics
Dear Dr. Brett,
We, the undersigned are academic economists and economic historians,
members of the Greek Society for the History of Economic Thought. Our
research includes work in the fields of the History of Economic Thought
and Economic History. We wish to add our voices to those of our
colleagues abroad who "urge you to reconsider the decision to 'relocate'
'economic history' and 'history of economic thought' into the 'History,
Archeology, Religion and Philosophy' category of the Australian Bureau
Such a decision, if applied, will certainly compromise seriously the
positions and research support of researchers in these fields. This
"collateral damage", however, would not be the greater of all evils.
Most importantly this decision will have dire implications for the
future of these fields and for economics in general.
It is no coincidence that the Journal of Economic Literature classifies
methodology together with history of economic thought. It is difficult
to do the one without the other. Ostracizing history of economic
thought outside its proper discipline deprives economists from the tools
to contemplate competently on the methods best for their science. In
fact, the history and methodology of a discipline is an established
integrated subfield in other sciences ('hard sciences' included!). To
mention a few examples from other subjects, the history of psychology
has a separate code in the PsycInfo database (Psychology), the history
of Physics is included in the American Institute of Physics
classification system PACS (Physics and Astronomy Classification
Scheme), and also the history of Mathematics has a separate code in
Mathematics Subject Classification of the American Mathematical Society.
The process of "relocation", once started, it will be irreversible.
Teachers of HET and economic history will cease to exist in Economic
Departments. If, in the future, economists realize the error of their
ways, it would be extremely difficult, even impossible, to retie the
severed thread of research. They will not be any of us around.
Economists whose research is primarily in other fields will be
discouraged to contribute to HET and economic history in this
competitive age of quantitatively assessed research output. This
would be unfortunate, since there is a long line of illustrious
economists who have contributed to HET while their major contribution is
in other fields. This list includes Nobel Laureates such as George
Stigler, Friedrich Hayek, Paul Samuelson, James Buchanan, Kenneth Arrow,
Gerard Debreu, Lawrence Klein, Robert Solow, Herbert Simon and Vernon
Smith. Indeed the list of Nobel Laureates includes also Robert Fogel
and Douglass North whose primary area of research is economic history,
published in economic journals, worked in economic departments and have
served as presidents of economic associations. Lesser mortals
presumably need not apply.
In truth, you cannot teach economics, or practice it, without a
knowledge of history of thought and of economic history. Students will
be unable to understand the processes through which economic theory is
being created and its relation to history and economic reality.
Relevance will be lost. Those who claim otherwise, adopt an extreme
methodological position and instead of fighting it out in the field of
scientific debate prefer to silence the opposition by bureaucratic
means. "Relocation" means taking sides, even unwittingly. It may also
mean that economics will become a poorer subject practiced by
historically illiterates engulfed in their formalistic esoterica plus a
toolbox of quantitative techniques. This will affect negatively the
enrollment to economics courses everywhere. They would be substituted
by business courses in business or management departments who, oddly
enough, are more hospitable to historians of economic thought and
economic historians, since, practical people as they are, are not
convinced that teaching economics can be done without its history. It
would be a pity if you have in the future to reclassify economics under
Moreover, it takes one to know one: philosophers and non-economic
historians even though they have enhanced, occasionally significantly,
the understanding of our science, they are a different breed and they
cannot, by training, carry out the bulk of research that is required in
these fields. But even if they publish important contributions, they
will do it in partibus infidelium, in places out of reach for economists
and in manner that eventually will become incomprehensible to economists
who by then would have lost any touch with historical and philosophical
arguments and the ability to understand them. Of course, intelligent
people - as economists are - are bound to reinvent through reasoning in
the course of their research, principles that are commonplace in the
fields of HET and Economic History but with the inelegance of the
amateur bereft of serious scholarship and of deeper understanding of the
We urge you to reconsider. "Relocation" would mean a disservice to
economics. It would be a wrong representation of what the fields of
history of economic thought and economic history are about. Certainly,
if you "relocate", eventually these fields will truly become part of
"History, Archeology, Religion and Philosophy". This would a case of
"self-fulfilling reclassification". We think that you agree with the
principle that a Statistics Bureau should not create reality but depict
Avraam-Albert Arouh, Professor, Economics, The American College of
Stavros A. Drakopoulos, Professor, Department of Philosophy & History of
Science, University of Athens.
Aristides N.Hatzis, (Ph.D., Law & Econ, University of Chicago),
Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy & History of Science,
University of Athens.
Anastassios D.Karayiannis, Associate Professor, Dept of Economics
University of Piraeus.
Vassilis Kardasis, Professor of Economic History, Dept of Economics
University of Crete.
George E. Krimpas, Professor Emeritus, Dept of Economics, University of
Athens, Past Head of the Dept of Economics, Past Vice-Rector of the
University of Athens, Past Dean of the Faculty of Law, Economics &
Politics, Former Ambassador of Greece to the OECD.
Theodoros Mariolis, Assistant Professor, Dept of Public Administration,
Panteion University, Athens.
Stavros Mavroudeas, Associate Professor, Dept of Economics, University
John Milios, Professor of Political Economy and the History of Economic
Thought, Department of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law, National
Technical University of Athens.
Dimitris Milonakis, Associate Professor of Political Economy, Deputy
Head, Dept of Economics, University of Crete.
Dimitrios S. Patelis, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Sciences, Technical
University of Crete.
Socrates Petmezas, Associate Professor of Economic and Social History,
Department of History and Archaeology, University of Crete.
Michalis Psalidopoulos, Professor, Dept of Economics, University of
George Stathakis, Professor, Dept of Economics, University of Crete.
Nicholas J. Theocarakis Ph.D. (Cantab.), Assistant Professor, Dept of
Economics, University of Athens.
Euclid Tsakalotos, D.Phil. (Oxon.), Professor, Dept of International
and. European Economic Studies, Athens University of Economics and
Lefteris Tsoulfidis, Associate Professor, Dept of Economics, University
Michael Zouboulakis, Associate Professor in the History and Methodology
of Economics, Department of Economics, University of Thessaly.
The following is an unedited version of an article that will be
published in the Education Section of the AFR on Monday.
An Historical Injustice
Dr Steven Kates
In June this year I went to the United States for a number of purposes
but amongst the main ones was to meet with Professor Thomas Sowell, a
fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford. Sowell is one of the most
widely published economists in the world, has written a host of books on
a variety of subjects in economics and politics, is highly influential
in his policy work and has a syndicated column that appears in the press
across the US.
The person he met with, me that is, has worked in the economics
department of a major bank, spent a quarter of a century as the
economist for Australia's largest business association and now divides
his time between a university appointment in a school of business and
his work as a commissioner investigating major economic policy issues on
behalf of the federal government.
But what Thomas Sowell and myself have in common is this. Both of us did
our doctorates on the same subject and both of us had our PhDs published
soon after. And the subject: Say's Law, a notion that was first
articulated in the first decade of the nineteenth century but which has
remained controversial amongst economists ever since.
Both of us, that is, had undertaken our doctoral research work in the
branch of economics referred to as the History of Economic Thought. And
it is this area of economics which is now about to be removed by the
ABS, along with Economic History, from amongst the legitimate fields of
economics. It is to be cast out on some lonely outpost, classified
within a new catch-all division of social sciencey type subjects which,
in the ABS's own conceptual system, is referred to as "History,
Archaeology, Religion and Philosophy".
The president of the Australian historians of economics society has
received a letter of explanation from the ABS outlining the reasoning
for this decision. How does the ABS get to make such decisions?
The first and main reason given for this change is this: "The processes
used in History of Economic Thought are primarily historical and
philosophical rather than economic."
How many different ways is this untrue. It is not whether historians of
economics are steeped in economics, deal with major economic issues and
provide policy advice based on the unique perspective that HET provides.
It is that the "processes" are not economic.
On this basis one would have to conclude that mathematical economics is
not economics but maths, or that econometrics is not an area of
economics but statistics instead. Behavioural economics, a burgeoning
field, would be psychology, and so on.
If the classification system is really based on "processes" and not
subject matter, then it is a classification system that is clearly built
on a flawed premise. It appears to have been based on the practices of
the "hard" science rather than the subject matter of the social
Economics must deal with events that occur within historical time.
Historical events are the feedstock of economic theory; they are an
economist's only laboratory.
The second reason given was that "groups (formerly disciplines) which
are not useful for describing either the breadth of R&D or how spending
is apportioned, were restructured."
To translate, students of the history of economic thought and economic
historians seldom sought, or received, public money. As noted by the
ABS, these areas had been responsible for "only 1.2% of all public
sector R&D in economics in 2004 (the most recent data available), thus
is too narrow to be useful for understanding where economics R&D
Thus, HET and Economic History should be excluded from the discipline of
economics because such economists do not apply for grants, and even if
they do apply, very seldom receive a cent. If more public funds were
being spent on these areas, we would be classified as part of economic
theory. But because we go about our work without requiring huge sums of
money, we cannot be included as a branch of economics.
It's a classification thing which has no merit in terms of subject
matter. A group of economists is dropped from being officially
designated as economists because they don't apply for grants, not
because they are not engaged in the study of economies.
So how might this decision be reversed? This, too, the ABS has
explained: "If this change is undesirable to your research community, we
can contemplate undoing these changes on the following grounds: Evidence
that R&D activity is significantly underreported or anticipated to
significantly increase in the near future. Evidence that the assumption
that History of Economic Thought R&D primarily involves processes that
are historical and philosophical is false.
That is, either show we intend to spend lots more public money or show
that we do not largely employ historical or philosophical processes in
our research. But, as this letter also states, irrespective of what we
show, "the Economic History and History of Economic Thought group will
not be reinstated."
Well, we think it should be. Historians of economics and economic
historians are economists and work as economists everywhere - one such
person even used to run the ABS.
Economics is a policy science. Economies cannot be studied without
studying the history of those economies. Without a thorough
understanding of historical circumstance, it is impossible to develop or
implement sensible economic policies.
Similarly, economic theory itself cannot be studied without also having
some understanding of how those theories were developed. Few PhDs in
economics are complete without a "literature review" which is expected
to encompass an historical compendium of all of the relevant theoretical
approaches that have been previously used to analyse whatever the topic
being studied happens to be.
The decision to drop history of economics and economic history from
within the economics classification is a decision that needs to be
reviewed and reversed.
Dr Steven Kates
September 9, 2007
Australian Bureau of Statistics
45 Benjamin Way
Belconnen ACT 2617
CC: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
I am writing to express my concern over the proposed Australian Bureau
of Statistics revision of its research classifications. As I understand
it this is part of a DEST commissioned review of the use of the
Australian Standard Research Classification. My specific concern relates
to the proposal, effective from 2008, to remove from the Economics
listings the fields History of Economic Thought and Economic History.
Instead "Economic History" and "History of Economic Thought" will be
"relocated" into a category of "History, Archeology, Religion and
Philosophy". It is also proposed that in any future revision History of
Economic Thought and Economic History will be eliminated entirely.
Our universities have asked us for feedback on these proposed changes to
transmit to you by September 14. We have also made our concerns known
via the ABS email site: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Could I ask you to look at the amount of feedback the ABS has received
on that site. I think you will agree that it is very substantial and in
almost complete consensus apposing the elimination of the fields History
of Economic Thought and Economic History from the Economics category. I
hope you might also note the standing of the representation that has
Strong support has come domestically from the:
President, Economic Society of Australia=20
President, Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand
President, History of Economic Thought Society of Australia
Chief Executive Officer. Universities Australia
Senior Staff, Productivity Commission
Australian Research Council Federation Fellows
Former Governor, Reserve Bank of Australia
Executive Director, Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.