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During several visits to the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) in 2017 and 2018, I viewed papers from a handful of collections which provided perspective on the early history of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). In my book project, tentatively titled Mapping the Future. A Euro-American History of Business Forecasting, 1920-1980, I investigate the history of four economic forecasting tools that have been developed, disseminated, and applied in the United States, in Europe, and beyond. One of them, leading indicators, was originally developed at the NBER in the 1930s and remains, till today, one of the most prominent forecasting tools worldwide. In what follows, I offer an overview of my book project and outline the history of the formation of the NBER. In it, I make extensive references to the sources of the Rockefeller Archive Center, which provide the most profound insights into the early history of the NBER.
I consulted the records of the Ford Foundation at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) in January 2015 as part of research for my dissertation titled "Planned Democracy: Development, Citizenship, and the Practices of Planning in Independent India, c. 1947—1966." My research at the RAC focused on the Ford Foundation's grants towards certain projects in India. These included ones supporting research on development, the training of economists, and the funding of a computer center at the Planning Commission. These archives offered me new insights into the depth of the Ford Foundation's involvement in postcolonial India's early experiments in economic development. They were especially useful in throwing light on how non-government institutions partnered with the Indian state in its quest to ramp up its research and data capacities.
The SSRC’s Committee on Economic Stability and the Consolidation of Large-Scale Macroeconometric Modeling in Postwar United StatesOctober 7, 2020
This report presents ongoing research on the history of the Committee on Economic Stability of the Social Science Research Council (1959-1995), which played a major role in the consolidation of large-scale macroeconometric modeling in postwar United States, both inside and outside academia. A key characteristic of the Committee's projects was their scale, which largely surpassed previous model-building work. This feature provides interesting insights into the relevance of the Committee's work in shaping macroeconomics in the postwar period. The Committee's records offer a most valuable source for reevaluating the history of macroeconomics, since much of applied economics and economics outside of academia has been neglected in the historiography of economics.
Tracing the Divergence of Behavioral and Experimental Economics in the Rockefeller Archive Center's CollectionsJune 9, 2020
"I once asked Amos Tversky whatever happened to the tradition of Sidney Siegel in psychology, and he said, 'You are it.' That was not a compliment. [group laughter] That was a touché. [group laughter] He was putting me down. … 'You are it. You continued a bad tradition.'" (Vernon Smith at the Witness Seminar) This brief, and at first sight innocuous, if not jocular, exchange took place during a short two-day conference. Even if we must rely solely on Smith's memory (Tversky died over two decades ago), this exchange is far from being so insignificant as to be cast aside as merely a cute anecdote. Rather, it is symptomatic of an unease growing at that time between experimental economists, including Smith, on the one hand, and a group of economists and cognitive psychologists – soon to be referred to as behavioral economists – on the other.
In February 1976, New York Senator Jacob Javits summoned a group of public officials, including Governor Hugh Carey, New York City Mayor Abraham Beame, and some leading businessmen to his New York offices to discuss how to create jobs in the city. Since the recession of 1970–71, private-sector employment had fallen sharply, a trend greatly exacerbated by deep cuts to the public-sector work force during the previous year's scrape with bankruptcy. As the city emerged from the brink of insolvency, with its fiscal hands tied as a result, Javits wanted to discuss ways to "improve the perceived and actual business climate" of the city—specifically, "to prepare an analysis of the measures required to keep business (and therefore employment) in the City" and to develop a plan "for New York City's best prospects for economic development during the next 3 to 5 years." Out of this meeting, Javits moved to organize a task force "aimed at improving the employment climate in New York City." Carey was initially "highly skeptical" of the task-force idea, but Javits and Beame were enthusiastic, and with their support, Chase Manhattan Bank Chairman David Rockefeller pushed the plan ahead. From these beginnings emerged the Business/Labor Working Group (B/LWG), a collection of business and private-sector union leaders which issued a widely-read set of recommendations in late 1976.
After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the center of gravity of U.S. foreign policy turned vigorously toward Latin America. Technical cooperation and foreign aid initiatives designed for the region regained some of the momentum they had enjoyed during the early years of Truman's Point IV Program. The trend, moreover, was duly accommodated by U.S. philanthropic foundations. The Ford Foundation (FF), which had been very timid in engaging Latin America till that time, decided to launch a massive assistance program aimed at the region, beginning in the early 1960s. If the International Cooperation Administration (ICA) and the newly created USAID did not hesitate to work directly with the governmental apparatus they found in place within the several Latin American countries, the FF preferred instead to assist non-governmental institutions that could provide the human and intellectual capital necessary to overcome the challenges of underdevelopment. Institution-building in the fields of higher education and academic research thus became one of the touchstones of the Ford Foundation's program for Latin America.
Can the market be trusted to provide the bundle of goods and services that society deems a basic entitlement of citizenship? The retreat from state-centered welfare institutions and the rise of policy movements emphasizing market-based alternatives over the past thirty years is said to mark a breaking point from the progressivism of the early twentieth century. Evidence from the Russell Sage Foundation Records, housed at the Rockefeller Archive Center, suggests that the trajectory from state to market or public to private is less representative than is commonly thought. Among the Foundation's most successful campaigns was its battle to reform small-sum lending between 1909 and 1946. Inspired by journalistic tales of working families held in virtual slavery by nefarious loan sharks, the Russell Sage Foundation devoted considerable resources to freeing small borrowers from the high rates of interest and criminal intimidation thought to engender poverty, crime, class agitation, and political radicalism. The Foundation's gradual pivot from promoting philanthropic solutions meant to circumvent the market in money to embracing profit and competition as a market-oriented means of achieving progressive ends stands as a key moment in the rise of the personal finance industry. It also serves as an early case study in the privatization of American social policy and an object lesson in the challenges reformers have faced when forging partnerships with the competitive marketplace.
This paper examines the role that Austrian economists played in international economics discussions in the 1920s and 1930s. With the support of the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, Austrian scholars received the opportunity to study abroad, learning the latest social scientific techniques in use, particularly in the United States. They also applied to the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) for funds to support their ongoing research in Central Europe. The most notable innovation was the Institut für Konjunkturforschung (IfK; Institute for Business Cycle Research), which existed as an independent economics institution until the Anschluss in 1938. The IfK became the crown jewel in a string of Central European business cycle institutes. Under the leadership of Friedrich Hayek and especially Oskar Morgenstern, the institute introduced innovative techniques and produced reliable economic data. Additionally, the Austrians wrote books and organized conferences about the Great Depression. Finally, when many Austrians sought refuge from the ever-worsening political situation in Europe, they turned to their contacts at the RF for assistance in finding employment or for financial assistance. For several of the émigré Austrian scholars, the relationship with the RF endured throughout most of their productive careers. Well into the 1960s, the RF continued to sustain projects from the Austrians, some of which outlived their originators.
Following World War II, rural America experienced a number of interconnected transformations that raised the question of what its future might look like, or whether or not it even had one. My project examines the response of policymakers, rural people, and social scientists to the problems these changes created, which I am calling the "rural crisis." More specifically, my dissertation examines how rural problems were understood by these groups, and the various ways they sought to build a new, more prosperous rural America and redefine the meaning of rural in the process. My research tracks the debates and implementation of public policies across distinct rural settings in California, Missouri, and Georgia.The records at the Rockefeller Archive Center contain significant insights into the broader debate that occurred in postwar America about how rural areas might be revitalized. The records of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Ford Foundation, Mitchell Sviridoff, Bernard McDonald, and Winthrop Rockefeller demonstrate that many Americans did not want to abandon rural places or encourage rural people to migrate. Instead, a variety of groups, from low-income black farmers in the South to foundation officials in New York grappled with the best way to revive declining rural communities. The Archive Center provides some documentation for "nonfarm" development programs that aimed to create a new economic base for rural America outside farming. More significantly, the Center's records provide extensive evidence for a vision of farm reform rooted in economic and racial justice that commanded significant attention in the postwar period.
A Tale of Missed Opportunities: The Role of the United States in the Protracted Modernization of Brazilian CapitalismNovember 13, 2017
From the Monroe Doctrine in the first quarter of the 19th century to the Good Neighbor Policy in the 1930s, the United States has continuously sought, in a consistent, multifaceted, and persistently paternalistic and often violently interventionist fashion, to exert its economic preponderance, political leverage, and cultural sway in the Western hemisphere. In the second half of the twentieth century, this regional pattern of behavior acquired a new, more concerted, and unprecedentedly self-professed benevolent format. Cold War dynamics required an original set of policies from the Colossus of the North in order to deal with the rising demands for economic prosperity and political democracy burgeoning across Latin American nations.
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