Entrepreneurship, knowledge and employment

The “coming into being” of experimental economics: A “biography” of the interwar experimental envy in North America

Cot Annie Lou, University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

How is a new scientific methodology adopted in economics? Abandoning John Stuart Mill’s veto on the possibility of transforming political economy into an experimental discipline, North American interwar authors, among whom Wesley Clair Mitchell and Rexford Tugwell played a major role, wrote numerous avant la letter advocacies on the necessity to turn the economic discipline into an experimental field. The notions of experiment and experimental economics were uncertain, polysemic, ill-defined, but marked a clear break with the mainstream conception of the discipline as a strictly hypothetico-deductive science, “tooled” with the then new instruments of mathematical statistic and econometrics. At the same time, some laboratory and field experiments were practiced in neighboring disciplines, leading to various protocols and results, which contributed to create a context for this “experimental envy” among economists. Following Lorraine Daston’s notion of “biography of scientific objects”, the paper explores some of these early “biographical” steps of the joint production of a new economic methodology and of new epistemic objects in economics: experimental “facts”.


Keywords: experimental economics, North American economics

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