Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Nathan Rosenberg, RIP

Nate was one of my professors in grad school at Stanford, and I was in touch with him intermittently until recent years. Stanford's announcement of his death is here. Nate made his reputation as an economic historian of technological change, and he was an important teacher and mentor to a number of economic historians and students of technological change who passed through the Stanford program. We will remember him fondly.

Nate's work was considered "old school" in the sense of being qualitative and narrative, rather than quantitative in the spirit of the cliometric revolution that swept the field during the 1960s and 70s. But understanding technological change has remained a real challenge to economic theory and empirics both, no matter how mathematically sophisticated, and Nate's ideas, if occasionally informal and fuzzy by current standards, remain insightful. For example, the idea of technological disequilibrium: that incremental progress along certain technological lines produced tensions that spurred innovation in complementary areas. Or the importance of information sharing and local agglomeration economies, for example in nineteenth-century New England machine shops, an early example of the kind of knowledge-based local economy that we associate with Silicon Valley.

I interviewed Nate in 1994 for the newsletter of the Cliometric Society, an interview that was later published in a collection by Routledge. Here is a link to the interview. Nate's longstanding engagement with the history of economic thought comes out in the interview, including his mixed feelings about Marx... probably typical of many red-diaper babies like him. His relative agnosticism about neoclassical vs. heterodox ideas in economics was a plus to a generation of PhD students attracted to alternative approaches to economics in the 1970s and 1980s, including me.

No comments:

Post a Comment