Chicago economics in the making, 1926-1940: a further look at United States Interwar Pluralism

Sebastiano Nerozzi, Luca Fiorito

Risultato della ricerca: Contributo in libroChapter


American economics during the interwar years has been defined as inherently pluralistic. Contrary to the traditional “institutionalism versus neoclassicism” narrative, starting from the late 1990s a flow of historiography has documented how the boundaries between the two “schools” – a rather inappropriate term in this connection – were loose and how economists of the time felt at liberty to borrow from each one. Within the general pluralistic framework, the University of Chicago offers a quite interesting case. Chicago was in fact pivotal in the formation and early history of the institutionalist movement prior to 1918 and, under the leading influence of John M. Clark, its department of economics retained a distinct institutionalist character until the mid 1920s. Clark’s departure to Columbia in 1926, and the subsequent hiring or promotion to professorship of people like Frank Knight, Jacob Viner, and Henry Simons set the stage for the establishment of the so-called “first” Chicago School of Political Economy. Although its members were certainly less critical toward the functioning of competitive markets and far more neoclassical than Clark and the bulk of institutionalists, the first Chicago school was by no means a monolith. Knight and Viner had different theoretical (as well as personal) styles; institutionalist and “unorthodox” influences lasted well into the 1930s; and even if Simons’ pro-market views were undoubtedly influential, it would have been hard to recognize a distinguishing ideological mark among Chicago Ph.D.'s of those years. As Melvin Reder has pointed out, throughout the late 1920s and 1930s the Chicago department remained very much a “mixed bag” and its students “were not readily identifiable by their view of economic analysis or of economic policy” (Reder 1982, 5). The nature of this paper is mostly documentary, i.e., its aim is to unfold a rich body of archival material which can shed new light on the nature and evolution of interwar Chicago economics. Specifically, this paper is based on a scrutiny of the qualifying exams on Economic Theory which gave access to the Ph.D. program at Chicago from 1926 to 1940. These documents provide a significant source of information concerning the making of an economist at Chicago since they reveal not just how economics was taught and tested at that university in the interwar years, but also what was then meant by “economic theory” and how this conception evolved over time. The relevant material was found among the Albert G. Papers at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Columbia University. Hart had been a graduate student at Chicago from 1931 to 1936, where he completed his dissertation under Knight. Hart’s material was complemented by further archival research at the University of Chicago which allowed us to collect other documentary evidences on the evolution of the teaching of economics since mid 1920s.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteHayek: a collaborative biography. Part XV: The Chicago Schhol of Economics, Hayek's 'luck' and the 1974 Nobel Prize for economics.
Numero di pagine46
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2018


  • Chicago School of economics
  • Institutionalism


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