A cataclysm sentence for economics, Episode 26

  • Guests: Peter Bent, François Allisson, Herman Daly and Sara Stevano (see below for more information).
  • Host and Producer: Maria Bach, Centre Walras Pareto, Unil, Lasuanne (former Assistant Professor of Economics at the American University of Paris)
  • Guest hosts: Wilhelm Aminoff, Wyatt DeLong, Farrah Aridou, Jonathan Noulowe II and Paul Harding, students of a history of economics course at the American University of Paris.

Inspired by Radiolab’s episode on the cataclysm sentence, this episode explores whether we could find a cataclysm sentence for economics. Radiolab had found out about the famous and award winning physicist, Richard Feynman, who in the 60s wanted to revamp the physics undergraduate degree to get more researchers into physics. He started his course at Caltech with what he called the cataclysm sentence, which is:

“If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence was passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words?”

We changed it a bit to apply only to economics:

“The one piece of economic knowledge that you would pass on to a future society if ours were to perish in a cataclysm.”

Along with students at the American University of Paris, we interviewed four people, an economic historian, an ecological economist, a feminist political economist and an historian of economics. Here is the list of their cataclysm sentences:

Peter Bent, Department of Economics, Trinity College, Connecticut, USA

Julie Nelson’s (UMass Boston) definition of economics: “The study of the ways societies organize themselves to provide for the survival and flourishing of life.”

Herman Daly, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, USA

“Although not reducible to biophysics, the human economy is nevertheless ecologically constrained, especially in its primary macroeconomic goal of aggregate growth, by the fact that it is a physical subsystem of a finite ecosphere that lives from a non growing  entropic flow of solar energy captured by scarce and depleting terrestrial materials.”

Sara Stevano, Department of Economics, The School of Oriental and African Studies, London

“Power relations are intrinsic to economic phenomena at multiple and interconnected scales.”

François Allisson, Centre Walras Pareto, Unil, Lausanne

“Economics was a temporary science
Necessary in times of perceived scarcity
To understand the ways
In which human needs
In various ways of organising human activities”

(pictured above)

While everyone had slightly different takes on the task and took us down different avenues of knowledge, there were several common themes. So fasten your seat belts, as we take you on a journey of discovery and at times a rather philosophical, utopic and radical discussion about what really matters.

Featured music (apart from the usual intro and outro music): Sounds by Jordan Powell, Erokia: https://freesound.org/people/Erokia/

James Buchanan and the Soul of Classical Political Economy, Episode 25

In this episode, Erwin talks with Alain Marciano and Pete Boettke about The Soul of Classical Political Economy a book they co-edited with archival material from the James Buchanan archives located at George Mason University. James Buchanan, Nobel Laureate in 1986 was an American economist who started as public finance scholar, who established the field of public choice and pioneered the constitutional political economy approach. They discuss the formation of the archives since Buchanan’s death in 2013, his role in the development of the Virginia School of Political Economy, his academic entrepreneurship and attempts to develop intellectual centres in sometimes hostile academic environments as well the evolution of his research program. Pete Boettke details the way in which Buchanan attempted to create a vibrant intellectual environment at the various universities in which he worked. Alain Marciano, who is working on an intellectual biography of Buchanan, explains the way in which the archives inform his project and how life and work became one for Buchanan.

Relocating Modern Science with Kapil Raj, Episode 24

Join Maria Bach for an interview with Kapil Raj about his approach in the history of science. Dr. Raj is Professor of the History of Science at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (The School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences) in Paris. In particular, they discuss Raj’s book Relocating Modern Science.

Links to works and institutions mentioned:
1. The Go Between by L.P. Hartley
2. The Lund Centre for History of Knowledge (LUCK)

German Socio-Economics, Episode 23

In this episode, Reinhard and Erwin talk with Stefan Kolev and Mark McAdam about the recent translation of eight classic articles in the tradition of German Socio-Economics including work by Georg Simmel, Joseph Schumpeter, Gustav Schmoller and Ferdinand Tönnies. These articles were picked from the rich archive of Schmollers Jahrbuch (currently Journal of Contextual Economics). They discuss the best way to understand the German tradition of Socio-Economics, the helpfulness of the Historical School label, how institutional change is best studied, and how relevant this tradition of thought is to under current socio-economic transformations around the world. The editors of these translations also discuss the process of translation both language wise and between different intellectual traditions.

The issue of the Journal of Contextual Economics with all translation and original articles is open-access for a limited amount of time.

Marginalised Voices, Episode 22

In this episode, Maria interviews three scholars who study underrepresented or what she calls marginalised voices in the history of policy and economics. They discuss why they came to study such lesser known figures and how the research can give us new perspectives. They also share the difficulties and constraints that they face. Jaci Eisenberg studied American women who contributed to the League of Nations. Gerardo Serra studies the history of economics and statistics in 20th century Ghana. Sharmin Khodaiji researches the institutionalisation of political economy in India. Listen to find out more about their research!

Till Düppe on Economics in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Episode 21

In this episode, Till Düppe talks with Reinhard about the development of Economics in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), better known as East Germany – a state that existed from 1948 until 1990. We discuss Till’s general approach of historical epistemology of economics before discussing in detail the development of Marxist-Leninist economics in the GDR from its beginning to its abrupt end in 1990. Till also compares this system of knowledge with economics before and after the GDR. Additionally, we discuss some methodological approaches, such as Karl Mannheim’s concept of generations and institutional history.

Till is an associate professor at the Department of Economics Sciences at the Université du Québec à Montréal.

Articles by Till Düppe mentioned in this episode:

Also mentioned in this episode is Episode 12 with Adam Leeds on the Development of Soviet and Russian Economics.

Parenting in Academia, Episode 20

Hosts: Maria Bach and Reinhard Schumacher
Production: Maria Bach

In this episode, we interview Beatrice Cherrier to talk about what it is like being a parent in academia – the ups, the downs and all the things we can do to make life and work easier.

South Asian Intellectual History with Andrew Sartori, Episode 19

In this episode, Maria shares a recent interview with Andrew Sartori, an intellectual historian at NYU. Andrew discusses his work in South Asian Intellectual History and how he ended up in this relatively small field when he started. He also talks about how he deals with the international diffusion of ideas. Finally, they debate the need to find a distinct Indian way of thinking and how this perceived need makes it hard to research in this area of study. Check out his publications here.

Dennis Rasmussen on David Hume and Adam Smith, Episode 18

In this episode, Dennis Rasmussen talks with Reinhard about David Hume and Adam Smith. The episode focuses on Dennis’s book The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship that Shaped Modern Thought. We discuss the Scottish Enlightenment, Hume’s and Smith’s lives, their mutual influence, and friendship in science. Additionally, Dennis talks about Adam Smith and economic inequality, as well as writing for a broader academic audience and for the general public.

Dennis is a professor of Political Science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. His research is mostly in the history of political thought.

Books and articles by Dennis Rasmussen mentioned in this episode:

The Mont Pelerin Society and the Origins of Neoliberalism with Ola Innset, Episode 17

In this episode we interview the historian Ola Innset about his award-winning dissertation Reinventing liberalism : Early neoliberalism in context, 1920-1947. He has used the methodology of micro-history to study the first meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in 1947, including ‘juicy’ details. We discuss Ola’s thesis of the double movement: neoliberalism as response to both planning and the old ideal of laissez-faire. But the conversation turns much broader about the international character of neoliberalism, the uses and abuses of the term, as well as its contemporary relevance. And we discuss other recent literature on neoliberalism including that of Quinn Slobodian and Peter Boettke.

In a piece for the Baffler Ola has described his own visit to the Mont Pelerin Hotel where the conference took place.

In a spin-off article has has explored the relations between Friedrich Hayek and Karl (!) Polanyi, which contains a continuation of the discussion about economic calculation in the podcast.