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  • Author(s):
    Thomas A. Stapleford
    Abstract:

    From 1910 - 1940, the practice of business and the practice of economics came to inform one another in novel ways, a reconfiguration that included the emergence of econometrics. The core locus for this intersection came from the rise of commercial forecasting—whether analyses of future demand, price and cost fluctuations, or financial markets—based on the analysis of statistical data. Forecasting united a suite of specific interactions with the practice of economics: business support for the …

    Date Published:
    2017-06
  • Author(s):
    Daniel J. Hicks, Thomas A. Stapleford
    Abstract:

    “Practice” has become a ubiquitous term in the history of science, and yet historians have not always reflected on its philosophical import and especially on its potential connections with ethics. In this essay, we draw on the work of the virtue ethicist Alasdair MacIntyre to develop a theory of “communal practices” and explore how such an approach can inform the history of science, including allegations about the corruption of science by wealth or power; consideration of scientific ethics or…

    Date Published:
    2016-09
  • Author(s):
    Thomas A. Stapleford
    Abstract:

    Whereas union leaders in nineteenth-century America often used the phrase “a living wage” to describe appropriate compensation for skilled workers, today that phrase is typically linked to unskilled labor. I argue that the erosion of ties between skilled workers and the living wage occurred in several stages between 1900 and 1930. Having traditionally avoided quantifying the “living wage,” unions were forced to do so within arbitration hearings, especially as these proliferated during and aft…

  • Author(s):
    Thomas A. Stapleford
    Abstract:

    Created in 1884, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has been the major federal source for data on labor-related topics in the United States such as prices, unemployment, compensation, productivity, and family expenditures. This essay traces the development and transformation of formal and informal consulting relationships between the BLS and external groups (including academic social scientists, unions, businesses, and other government entities) over the twentieth century. Though such …

  • Author(s):
    Thomas A. Stapleford
    Abstract:

    This essay explores the history of the 1935-1936 Study of Consumer Purchases, an extraordinary national survey of family incomes and expenditures undertaken by the federal government during the New Deal. Created and administered primarily left-leaning economists, the project was an order of magnitude larger and more complex than any previous expenditure survey and was intended to aid and justify state-led economic planning. Yet it failed to be an effective help to New Deal reformers, proving …

  • Author(s):
    Thomas A. Stapleford
    Abstract:

    Prior to the 1960s most American economists rejected hedonic techniques as a solution to the problem of quality change in price indexes. I argue that behind that judgment lay a deeper conceptual divide over how best to define and assess product quality: through expert testing or through market price differentials. Most American economists working on price indexes at the time had ties to the U.S. consumer movement, which emphasized consumer ignorance and promoted expert analysis as the only re…

  • Author(s):
    Thomas A. Stapleford
    Abstract:

    This essay examines the evolution of data-collection practices in American expenditure surveys over much of the twentieth century. Economists conducting expenditure surveys faced one fundamental concern: their success hinged upon the cooperation of interviewees (typically housewives) and the reliability of their testimony. Investigators recognized that both dependencies posed serious problems, and they struggled to devise effective solutions. I argue that over the course of the twentieth cent…

  • Author(s):
    Thomas A. Stapleford
    Abstract:

    This essay argues that beneath the superficial linearity of the history of neoclassical price index theory lie important conceptual ruptures that are linked to the ordinal revolution, including a radical transformation in the core objective for cost-of-living indexes. Revealing these ruptures produces a more accurate history of both the development of neoclassical price index theory and its reception. Furthermore, we can recognize how transformations in this theory have made cost-of-living in…