Economia medieval

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Does the Past Have Useful Economics? Donald N. McCloskey Journal of Economic Literature, Vol. 14, No. 2. (Jun., 1976), pp. 434-461.
Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0022-0515%28197606%2914%3A2%3C434%3ADTPHUE%3E2.0.CO%3B2-X Journal of Economic Literature is currently published by American Economic Association.

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http://www.jstor.org Sun Aug 5 19:08:58 2007 Does the Past Have Useful
Economics?

University of Chicago

It is not mere convention that impels me to thank the many colleagues who have commented on earlier drafts of this essay. I have received from them in writing the equivalent of over 100 typed pages, and many hours of conversation as well. This itself measures the vigor of historical economics, one theme here, but theircontribution to the product is immeasurable. I would like to thank, therefore, the seminars in economic history at Chicago and at Northwestern; and R. Cameron, M. Edelstein, S. L. Engerman, R. W Fogel, R. Gallman, H. Gemery, C D. Goldin, G. Gunderson, G. Hawke, R. Higgs, G. Hueckel, J R. T Hughes, H. G. Johnson, E. L. Jones, A. Kahan, C P. Kindleberger, A. Leijonhufvud, P. Lindert, P. McClelland, M.Mclnnis, J. Mokyr, L. D. Neal, A. Olmstead, D. Perkins,J. D. Reid, N Rosenberg, W W Rostow, A. J. Schwartz, B. Solow, G. Walton, D. Whitehead, andJ. G. Williamson. And I would like to apologize to George Stigler for inverting for my own purposes the title of his $ne essay, "Does Economics Have a Useful Past?"[107, 19691, and for ignoring the useful lemma illustrated there (p. 226): "there are notten good reasons for anything."

of is "yes," T one time the course,question and at very would
HE ANSWER,

have seemed impertinent. Smith, Marx, Mill, Marshall, Keynes, Heckscher, Schumpeter, and Viner, to name a few, were nourished by historical study and nourished it in turn. Gazing down from Valhalla it would seem to them bizarre that their heirs would study economics with the history leftout, stopping their desultory search for facts in time series at the last 25 years and in cross sections at the latest tape from the Bureau of the Census, passing by the experiments of history with little regard for their place in a nonexperimental science, distrusting old facts as er-

ror-ridden intrusions from another structure, abandoning historical perspectives on their political economy,and basing their theory and policy on stylized nonfacts about economic development, fairy tales remembered from their youth. Yet this is what has happened. It began in the 1940's, in some respects earlier, as young American economists bemused by revolutions in the substance and method of economics neglected the reading of history in favor of macroeconomics, mathematics, and statistics. The low...
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