ENSAE Paris - École d'ingénieurs pour l'économie, la data science, la finance et l'actuariat

Topics in the History of Applied Economics



Département : Economics


The objective of this course is to help you understand the many ways in which economics has acquired its ‘applied’ identity throughout the XXth century. We will thus survey the development of tools whereby economic concepts, theories and models are confronted to facts. We will focus of the history of econometrics, of experimental economics, and on how economists have constructed data sets. We will also discuss examples of applications of economics concepts and models in the policies and business spheres. Finally, the cultures of applications that economists have nurtured differ across fields. We will thus contrast the challenges microeconomists and macroeconomists face. 

Note that the list of session topic is indicative. It will depends on what you are interested in, as well as on Covid-related teaching conditions


The purpose of this course is to build reflexivity on the tools and models that you use in your own research. Assessment criteria are thus designed accordingly:

- participation in class: each session with begin with discussing one to three papers offering case studies of the topic under investigation (20% final grade)

-final essay: I’ll ask to send me a short note describing your planned/ongoing master research. On this basis, I’ll propose you some readings to help you craft a max 5-pages thesis introduction tying your specific topic to the larger debates that have been running in your field or the discipline at large in the past decades. Such writing exercise will, I hope, help you in devising introduction, grant applications or presentations of your research (80% of final grade).


Week 1: The transformation of economics in the XXth century: a chronology



Week 2: History of econometrics: inference & causality

Week 4: History of data and observation in economics

Week 5: History of experiments in economics 


Policy & business applications

Week 6: The “Economist’ Hour” Have economists truly influence economic policies in the postwar era? 



Week 7: Empirical debates and changing identities in macroeconomics

Week 8: Controversies in microeconomics

Some topics to be chosen from: 

-history of production functions

- Experiments vs econometrics in the Exxon-Valdez controversy

- normative issues in applying cost-benefit analysis to policy issues


General readings: 

Backhouse, R. 2004.The Ordinary Business of Life. Princeton University Press (a short highly readable introduction to the history of economics from Aristotle to recent decades) 

Backhouse, Cherrier, 2017 (eds). “The age of the applied economist: the transformation of economics after 1970 ?” History of political economy, 49 (5) (a collection of papers on the “applied turn” in economics)

Backhouse, R. Tribe, K. 2017. The History of Economics: A course for Students and Teachers, Columbia University Press (25 chapters, each presenting a short introduction to a topic and providing a reading list)


History of econometrics 

Angrist & Jörn-Steffen Pischke, 2010. "The Credibility Revolution in Empirical Economics" Journal of Economic Perspectives  24(2)

Hoover, K. 2008. “Causality in Economics and Econometrics” Palgrave Dictionary of Economics https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=930739

Morgan, Mary. 1990. The History of Econometric Ideas. Cambridge University Press. 

Panhans, M. Singleton, J. 2017. “The empirical economist's toolkit: From models to methods.” History of Political Economy 49 (Supp).

Qin, D. 2013. A History of Econometrics: the reformation from the 1970S. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Qin, Duo. 1993. Formation of Econometrics: A historical perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sims, C. 2010. "But economics is not an experimental science." Journal of Economic Perspectives  24(2)

Stock, J. Trebbi, F. 2003. “Who Invented Instrumental Variable Regression?” Journal of Economic Perspective,  17(3)


History of data and Quantification 

Hirschman, Dan. 2019 ; “Rediscovering the 1%: Knowledge Infrastructures and the Stylized Facts of Inequality”, working paper, https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/ea2hy

Porter, T. M. 1996. Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public

Life. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Stapleford, T. 2009. The Cost of Living in America. Cambridge: Cambridge University



History of experimental economics

Svoren?ík, A. 2015. “The Experimental Turn in Economics: A History of Experimental

Economics.” PhD diss., University of Utrecht : https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2560026


History of economics applied to policy 

Chassonnery-Zaïgouche, C. 2020, (ed) “Symposium on Economists in court,” Journal of the History of Economic Thought 42(2) https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-the-history-of-economic-thought/economists-in-court

Hirschman, Berman, 2014. “Do Economists make policies? On the political effects of economics,” Socio-Economic Review, 12(4) 


History of applied macro

Duarte & Lima (eds) Microfoundations Reconsidered: The Relationship of Micro and Macroeconomics in Historical Perspective. Cheltenham, U.K.: Edward Elgar

Saidi, A. “How Saline Is the Solow Residual? Debating Real Business Cycles in the 1980s and 1990s,” History of Political Economy 51(3) 

Sergi, F. 2020.  “The Standard Narrative about DSGE Models in Central Banks’ Technical Reports.” European Journal of the History of Economic Though. 27(2):163-193.


History of applied micro 

Banzhaf, S. 2009. “Objective or Multi-Objective? Two Historically Competing Visions for Benefit-Cost Analysis.” Land Economics 85(1): 3-23

Biddle, J. 2012. “Retrospectives: The Introduction of the Cobb-Douglas Regression.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 26(2), 223-36. 

Cheng, C.T. “Guy H. Orcutt’s Engineering Microsimulation to reengineer Society.” History of Political Economy 52 (S1)

Maas, H., and A. Svoren?ík. 2017. “Fraught with Controversy: Organizing Expertise

against Contingent Valuation.” History of Political Economy 49 (2): 314–45

Panhans, M. 2018. “Health Economics: Scientific Expertise and Policymaking” Oeconomia 8(3) https://journals.openedition.org/oeconomia/3091?lang=en