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Institutional Economics at Columbia University

In the interwar period, institutionalism was a very major part of American economics. The main centers for institutionalism were the University of Chicago (until 1926 and the departure of J. M. Clark), the University of Wisconsin, the Robert Brookings Graduate School (which existed only briefly between 1923 and 1928), and, after the arrival of Wesley Mitchell in 1913, and J. M. Clark in 1926, Columbia University. Columbia University became the academic home of a large concentration of economists of institutionalist leaning, and other Schools and Departments in the University, particularly Business, Law, Sociology, and Philosophy, also contained many people of similar or related persuasion. Taken in aggregate, Columbia has to rank as the largest and most important center for institutional economics from the mid 1920s to the late 1940s. This paper traces the history of institutionalism at Columbia begining with Wesley Mitchell's appointment in 1913. The institutionalist contingent grew rapidly to include F. C. Mills, Robert Hale, James Bonbright, Rexford Tugwell, and J. M. Clark. Mitchell's National Bureau of Economic Research, founded in 1920, was also a center for Mitchell's quantitative institutionalism and employed many Columbia graduates and faculty. In addition Gardiner Means was employed in the Law School working with Adolf A. Berle, and there were close links between institutionalists and the legal realist movement in law. In the early 1930's Carter Goodrich, Leo Wolman, and Joseph Dorfman were added to the economics faculty. The work produced by this institutionalist contingent and their graduate students is examined. After that, institutionalism began to decline in its professional standing. At Columbia, this was reflected in a growing concern with the Department's relative weakness in theory, and, in 1947, the hiring of Albert Hart, George Stigler, and William Vickrey. Institutionalism did not renew itself at Columbia and gradually faded from the Department with the retirement of the older generation of faculty.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, University of Victoria in its series Department Discussion Papers with number 0103.

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Length: 54 pages
Date of creation: 16 Oct 2001
Handle: RePEc:vic:vicddp:0103
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