Inland empire: Economics imperialism as an imperative of Chicago neoliberalism

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Recent work such as Steven Levitt's Freakonomics has prompted economic methodologists to reevaluate the state of relations between economics and its neighboring disciplines. Although this emerging literature on 'economics imperialism' has its merits, the positions advanced within it have been remarkably divergent: some have argued that economics imperialism is a fiction; others that it is a fact attributable to the triumph of neoclassical economics; and yet others that the era of economics imperialism is over. We believe the confusion results in part from a lack of historical understanding about the nature and aims of economics imperialists. We seek to improve historical understanding by focusing on the activities of a cadre of economists at the epicenter of economics imperialism, the University of Chicago. These activities - led, in the first instance, by Aaron Director and, in the second, by George Stigler - stemmed from the effort to forge a new liberalism or a 'neoliberalism.' We then consider Steven Levitt's Freakonomics in light of the insights gained from our historical study. Our analysis leads us to question each of the three positions on economics imperialism held by economic methodologists. © 2012 Copyright Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.

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Journal of Economic Methodology