History of Economics

I’ve written extensively on the history of economics and American political economy in the twentieth century, where my primary interests lie in the creation of empirical economic knowledge (notably statistics) and the use of that knowledge in political and economic life. To date, much of my work has focused on cost-of-living statistics, though I have also explored the relationship between economic expertise and democratic politics more generally. I am working on a long-term project about the history of family economics and on a history of econometrics during the interwar years.

Some select publications in these areas are described below.

Empirical Economics & Economic Statistics

The Cost of Living in America: A Political History of Economic Statistics, 1880 – 2000. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
My first book started with a basic question: If economic statistics are ambiguous (they can be defined in multiple ways), what would it mean to write a political history that takes that ambiguity seriously? My book pursues that question by exploring various efforts to measure the “cost of living,” notably price indexes and standard budgets.

   Articles & Book Chapters

“Engineering the ‘Statistical Control of Business’: Malcolm Rorty, Telephone Engineering, and American Economics, 1900–1930.” History of Political Economy 52, annual supplement (2020): 59–84. https://doi.org/10.1215/00182702-8717924.
“Businesspersons and the Making of American Econometrics, 1910 – 1940.” History of Political Economy 49, no. 2 (2017): 233–65. https://doi.org/10.1215/00182702-3876469.
“Econometrics.” In Modernism and the Social Sciences: Anglo-American Exchanges, c.1918–1980, edited by Mark Bevir, 39–76. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316795514.003.
“Aftershocks from a Revolution: Ordinal Utility and Cost-of-Living Indexes.” Journal of the History of Economic Thought 33, no. 2 (2011): 187–222. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1053837211000058.
“Reconceiving Quality: Political Economy and the Rise of Hedonic Price Indexes.” History of Political Economy 43, annual supplement (2011): 309–28. https://doi.org/10.1215/00182702-1158772.
“Defining a ‘living Wage’ in America: Transformations in Union Wage Theories, 1870-1930.” Labor History 49, no. 1 (2008): 1–22. https://doi-org/10.1080/00236560701740002.
“Market Visions: Expenditure Surveys, Market Research, and Economic Planning in the New Deal.” Journal of American History 94, no. 2 (2007): 418–44. https://doi.org/10.2307/25094959.

Economists and Democratic Politics

Robert Van Horn, Philip Mirowski, and Thomas Stapleford, eds., Building Chicago Economics: New Perspectives on the History of America’s Most Powerful Economics Program (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
Economists from the University of Chicago were extraordinarily successful in the second half of the twentieth century, both at winning Nobel prizes and influencing government policy. In this co-edited volume, our contributors explore the roots of that success by looking at the early history of the Chicago School.

   Articles & Book Chapters

“Positive Economics for Democratic Policy: Milton Friedman, Institutionalism, and the Science of History.” In Building Chicago Economics: New Perspectives on the History of America’s Most Powerful Economics Program, edited by Robert Van Horn, Philip Mirowski, and Thomas A. Stapleford, 1–35. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. https://doi-org/10.1017/CBO9781139004077.005.


Family Economics

“Family Economics” emerged from the intersection of economics and home economics in the early twentieth century. Comprised primarily of women, most of whom had graduate training in economics and sociology, family economics used economic and social theory to study household life, considering the home as both a site of production and consumption. My first publication, “Housewife vs. Economist,” examined some of that literature, and several family economists appeared in subsequent work, such as “Market Visions” and “Re-conceiving Quality” (above). I’m working on a longer term project, tentatively titled “Home & Market”, that explores the rise and fall of this field in more detail.

“‘Housewife vs. Economist’: Gender, Class, and Domestic Economic Knowledge in Twentieth-Century America.” Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas 1, no. 2 (2004): 89–112. https://doi.org/10.1215/15476715-1-2-89.