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Democratic Crisis and the Responsibility of Economics, II

Paper Session

Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM

Loews Philadelphia, Parlor 1
Hosted By: Association for Social Economics
  • Chair: George DeMartino, University of Denver

Populism Versus Economic Expertise: J. Laurence Laughlin Debates William (Coin) Harvey

Constance Andre Aigret
University of Lyon


The expertise and authority of academic economists came under fierce populist attack in the 1890s, as Democrats and Populists joined to support William Jennings Bryan for President on a bimetallist platform of free coinage of silver. The most widely read populist critique was William Harvey's Coin's Financial School (1894), of which over a million copies circulated. In Harvey's tract, the fictitious bimetallist Coin debated and humiliated J. Laurence Laughlin, the hard money, pro-gold standard founder of the U. of Chicago Economics Department and of the JPE (and later a major influence of the creation of the Federal Reserve). On May 17, 1895, after preliminary negotiations and disputes over the topic of the debate, Laughlin and Harvey engaged in a real debate at the Illinois Club, published in October 1895 as a fifty-page appendix to Laughlin's Facts About Money. When able to speak for himself, Laughlin forcefully defended the gold standard and the authority of academic economists to pronounce on economic questions, while Harvey vigorously made the populist case against the privileged knowledge of academic experts. This paper examines both the fictitious Coin-Laughlin debate of 1894 and the actual Harvey-Laughlin debate of 1895 to illuminate the populist revolt against the authority and expertise of academic economists and the rebuttal of that critique by leaders of the economics discipline.

Divided but Not Conquered: Intersectional Conflicts in the Age of Trump

Nancy Folbre
Political Economy Research Institute


Some social scientists and policy makers make a strong distinction between collective identities based on cultural allegiances and collective interests based on economic positions. This paper develops a feminist analysis of intersectionality that challenges this binary, offering a more flexible way of analyzing collective conflict that helps explain partisan politics in the U.S. today.

The Complicity of Economics

Julie A. Nelson
University of Massachusetts-Boston


Economics has long promoted an image of agents who profit and consume for their own individual benefit without any kind of responsibility for each other, and who rationally evaluate means but not ends. This contribution explores the relationship between the expanding influence of the homo economicus image and the rise of Donald Trump.

Homo Economicus, AIs, Humans and Rats: Decision-making and Economic Welfare

Diane Coyle
University of Manchester


The role of rationality in economics is often in the spotlight, but this focus on the manner of decision-making overlooks the importance of the social context for people's choices. Welfare economics has long insisted that positive and normative considerations can be strictly separated, but social influences make this separation protocol inadmissible. Economists presuming to advise on public policy urgently need to revisit the foundations of welfare economics to be consistent with what the biological and cognitive sciences tell us about individuals' decisions.

How to Cause a Populist Revolution: Youth Unemployment, Labor Immobility, and the War on Drugs

Deirdre Nansen McCloskey
University of Illinois-Chicago


The crisis of democracy arises from good-hearted interventions in the economy that make young people unemployable and neighborhoods depressed.
JEL Classifications
  • B5 - Current Heterodox Approaches