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History of Political Economy 33.3 (2001) 667-669

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Book Review

The Development of Economics in Western Europe since 1945


The Development of Economics in Western Europe since 1945. Edited by A. W. Bob Coats. London: Routledge, 2000. xiv; 262 pp. £60.00.

For the discipline of economics in Western Europe, the end of World War II initiated a half century of accelerated catching-up. The first half of the twentieth century was generally a period of relative stagnation. In the leading American graduate schools the Keynesian revolution was evolving into the neoclassical synthesis. European economists as a whole, however, had barely reached the level of Alfred Marshall's Principles of 1890. By the end of the twentieth century the gap had largely (if not completely) disappeared. The differences between the continents had become less important than those between different institutions on each of the two continents. A few years ago, Kyklos thus could raise the provocative question of whether there is a European economics. The volume under review may be regarded as a further—and substantial—contribution to this discussion. Carefully edited by Bob Coats, it presents case studies of ten Western (and Southern) European countries with an introduction and concluding remarks by the editor. For anybody interested in the recent development of economics as a profession it is an indispensable source.

The rich content of this volume can only be indicated in merest outline. Roger Backhouse describes the result of British developments as halfway Americanization associated with “proletarization.” For Sweden, Bo Sandelin, Nikias Sarafoglou, and Ann Veiderpass emphasize the strong policy orientation of economists. For the [End Page 667] development of Dutch economics, analyzed by Henk W. Plasmeijer and Evert Schoorl, it is characteristic that it is more “Tinbergian” than Keynesian. The Belgian case, discussed by Ivo Maes, Erik Buyst, and Muriël Bouchet, illustrates the gradual internationalization and professionalization of a hierarchical system dominated by a few “mandarins.” The case of France, as presented by Christian Schmidt, is the paradigm of a system that continues to resist “Americanization,” decentralization, and innovation. In Harald Hagemann's summary of German developments the most dramatic aspect is, of course, the struggle between successive ideologies. Pier Luigi Porta shows how the Fascist legacy left its imprint on Italian economics. How to overcome the corporatist legacy was also the problem in Portugal (discussed by Carlos Bastien), and political changes also emerged as the main motor of the internationalization of economics in Spain (Salvador Almenar) and Greece (Michalis Psalidopoulos).

It would be wrong, however, to expect from this volume a description and assessment of research contributions. It is not about economic discoveries, but about academic institutions. The central topic is the demand and supply of economists. This means that the success or failure of specific institutional arrangements cannot be conclusively evaluated, since this would presumably have to be done in terms of scientific achievements. Another limitation arises from the decision to use a country-by-country perspective, whereas many of the pertinent questions seem to cry out for a comparative approach.

Among the promising candidates for comparative studies, three topics seem to this reviewer to be of particular interest. One of them concerns the academic affiliation of economists. In England and the United States, following the classical tradition, political economy emerged, like the natural sciences and history, as a branch of philosophy. On the Continent, on the other hand, economics was an auxiliary of either law or accountancy (business management). Thus Swedish, French, and Austrian (and other) economists had to satisfy all requirements for a law professor before they could teach economics. In this case, history seems to give a clear verdict in favor of the classical tradition. In the meantime, however, schools have become so big that economics ceases to need the umbrella of another faculty.

Another vital issue relates to the degree of centralization. American universities, like the German universities of the nineteenth century, are virtually independent of each other. No central coordination controls the allocation of resources and prevents wasteful duplication. Competition rules. The French university system...


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