The Bureau of Economics in the Federal Trade Commission has a three-part role in the Agency and the strength of its functions changed over time depending on the preferences and ideology of the FTC’s leaders, developments in the field of economics, and the tenor of the times. The over-riding current role is to provide well considered, unbiased economic advice regarding antitrust and consumer protection law enforcement cases to the legal staff and the Commission. The second role, which long ago was primary, is to provide reports on investigations of various industries to the public and public officials. This role was more recently called research or “policy R&D”. A third role is to advocate for competition and markets both domestically and internationally. As a practical matter, the provision of economic advice to the FTC and to the legal staff has required that the economists wear “two hats,” helping the legal staff investigate cases and provide evidence to support law enforcement cases while also providing advice to the legal bureaus and to the Commission on which cases to pursue (thus providing “a second set of eyes” to evaluate cases). There is sometimes a tension in those functions because building a case is not the same as evaluating a case. Economists and the Bureau of Economics have provided such services to the FTC for over 100 years proving that a sub-organization can survive while playing roles that sometimes conflict. Such a life is not, however, always easy or fun.
Once dismissed as a dismal science, economics has, over a period of three centuries, acquired a respectability, signified quite appropriately by the institution of a separate Nobel prize. It is not any longer a study dealing with the simple laws of supply and demand. Today, it is an extensive and well developed academic discipline with its own specialized branches such as econometrics. Today's student of economics faces the problem common to most other disciplines, namely, proliferation of the subject literature. Luckily for him, there is no dearth of guidebooks and manuals which attempt to teach the beginner the art and science of looking for and finding appropriate information. These include The Uses of Economics Literature, How to Find Out About Economics, Economics and Commerce: The Sources of Information and Their Organization, and Economics: Bibliographic Guide to Reference Books and Information Sources. Any standard textbook would provide an adequate introduction to the basic concepts in the various branches of economics like economic theory, economic history, labor economics, mathematical economics, microeconomics, macroeconomics and price theory. These texts, however, may not contain information on the state of the art in each area. For this purpose, one needs to resort to sources like the AEA Survey of Economic Theory and the Survey of Applied Economics. On a lay level, we have the annual Readings in Economics, which deals with current economic problems, like inflation, unemployment, growth, income distribution, externalities and international economics. Basically, it is a collection of writings dealing with the foundations of economics and its critics. An important recent development in the publication of the state of the art reviews in the various branches of economics will be highlighted in my second annual State‐of‐the‐Art Survey of Reference Materials in Business and Economics. An introductory survey of literature is available from publications such as The Literature of Social Sciences and the Sources of Information in the Social Sciences: A Guide to Literature.
The history of economics has often been described as the “history of economic thought.” In this essay, I explore an alternative perspective that builds on the French…
The history of economics has often been described as the “history of economic thought.” In this essay, I explore an alternative perspective that builds on the French tradition of historical epistemology and treats economics as a social practice. I argue that a practice-based view provides a more philosophically robust conception of historiography and a richer field of investigation for historians of economics.
The first Wisconsin Ph.D.s who came to MSU with an institutional bent were agricultural economists and included Henry Larzalere (Ph.D. 1938) whose major professor was…
The first Wisconsin Ph.D.s who came to MSU with an institutional bent were agricultural economists and included Henry Larzalere (Ph.D. 1938) whose major professor was Asher Hobson. Larzalere recalls the influence of Commons who retired in 1933. Upon graduation, Larzalere worked a short time for Wisconsin Governor Phillip Fox LaFollette who won passage of the nation’s first unemployment compensation act. Commons had earlier helped LaFollette’s father, Robert, to a number of institutional innovations.4 Larzalere continued the Commons’ tradition of contributing to the development of new institutions rather than being content to provide an efficiency apologia for existing private governance structures. He helped Michigan farmers form cooperatives. He taught land economics prior to Barlowe’s arrival in 1948, but primarily taught agricultural marketing. One of his Master’s degree students was Glenn Johnson (see below). Larzalere retired in 1977.