Cliometrics, sometimes called new economic history, or econometric history, is the systematic application of economic theory, econometric techniques, and other formal or mathematical methods to the study of history (especially, social and economic history). It is a quantitative (as opposed to qualitative or ethnographic) approach to economic history. The term cliometrics comes from Clio, who was the muse of history, and was originally coined by the mathematical economist Stanley Reiter in 1960.
History of the discipline
The new economic history originated in 1958 with The Economics of Slavery in the Antebellum South by American economists Alfred H. Conrad and John R. Meyer, which caused a firestorm of controversy with its claim, based on statistical data, that slavery would have continued in the absence of the U.S. Civil War. The new economic history revolution actually began in the mid-1960s and was resisted because many incumbent economic historians were either historians or economists who had very little connection to economic modeling or statistical techniques. Areas of key interest included transportation history, slavery, and agriculture. Cliometrics become better known when Douglass North and William Parker became the editors of the Journal of Economic History in 1960. The Cliometrics Meetings began to be held around this time at Purdue University and are still held annually in different locations. Today, cliometric approaches are standard in several journals, including the Journal of Economic History, Explorations in Economic History, the European Review of Economic History, and Cliometrica.
According to cliometric economist Claudia Goldin, the success of the cliometric revolution had as an unintended consequence the disappearance of economic historians from history departments. As economic historians started using the same tools as economists, they started to seem more like other economists. In Goldin's words, "the new economic historians extinguished the other side". The other side nearly disappeared altogether, with only a few remaining in history departments and business schools. However, some new economic historians did, in fact, begin research around this time, among them were Kemmerer and Larry Neal (a student of Albert Fishlow, a leader of the cliometric revolution) from Illinois, Paul Uselding from Johns Hopkins, Jeremy Atack from Indiana, and Thomas Ulen from Stanford.
A group to encourage and further the study of cliometrics, The Cliometric Society, was founded in 1983.
Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics
In October 1993, the Royal Bank of Sweden awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics to Robert William Fogel and Douglass Cecil North "for having renewed research in economic history." The Academy noted that "they were pioneers in the branch of economic history that has been called the 'new economic history,' or cliometrics." Fogel and North received the prize for turning the theoretical and statistical tools of modern economics on the historical past: on subjects ranging from slavery and railroads to ocean shipping and property rights.
Fogel is often described as the father of modern econometric history. He's especially noted for using careful empirical work to overturn conventional wisdom. North, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, was honored as a pioneer in the "new" institutional history. In the Nobel announcement, specific mention was made of a 1968 paper on ocean shipping, in which North showed that organizational changes played a greater role in increasing productivity than did technical change.
Cliometrics has had sharp critics. Boldizzoni summarized a common critique by arguing that cliometrics is based on the false assumption that the laws of neo-classical economics always apply to human activity. Those laws, he says, are based on rational choice and maximization as they operate in well-developed markets do not apply to economies other than those of the capitalist West in the modern era. Instead, Boldizzoni argues that the workings of economies are determined by social, political and cultural conditions specific to each society and time period.
On the other hand, Diebolt argued that cliometrics is a mature and well accepted by scholars as an "indispensable tool" in economic history. He says most scholars agree that economic theory, combined with new data as well as historical and statistical methods are necessary to formulate problems precisely, to draw conclusions from postulates and to gain insight into complicated processes. At the applied level, cliometrics is accepted as the way to measure variables and estimate parameters.
A criticism of Cliometrics by Joseph T. Salerno, based on the perspective of the Austrian School of economics, especially that of Ludwig von Mises, can be found in his Introduction to Murray N. Rothbard's A History of Money and Banking in the United States: The Colonial Era to World War II.
- Fogel, Robert (December 1966). "The New Economic History. Its Findings and Methods". Economic History Review 19 (3): 642–656. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0289.1966.tb00994.x. JSTOR 2593168. "The 'new economic history', sometimes called economic history or cliometrics, is not often practiced in Europe. However, it is fair to say that efforts to apply statistical and mathematical models currently occupy the centre of the stage in American economic history."
- Woodman, Harold (1972). "Economic History and Economic Theory: The New Economic History in America". Journal of Interdisciplinary History 3 (2): 323–350. JSTOR 202334. "Among the most recent of the changes in emphasis-today's new history-is the rise of the "new economic history" or, as it is variously called, econometric history or cliometric."
- Edward L. Glaeser, "Remembering the Father of Transportation Economics", The New York Times (Economix), October 27, 2009.
- Goldin, Claudia (Spring 1995). "Cliometrics and the Nobel". The Journal of Economic Perspectives 9 (2): 191–208 [p. 191]. doi:10.1257/jep.9.2.191. JSTOR 2138173.
- Conrad, Alfred H.; Meyer, John R. (1958). "The Economics of Slavery in the Ante Bellum South". Journal of Political Economy 66 (2): 95–130. doi:10.1086/258020. JSTOR 1827270.
- Goldin, Claudia (Spring 1995). "Cliometrics and the Nobel". The Journal of Economic Perspectives 9 (2): 191–208 [p. 194]. doi:10.1257/jep.9.2.191. JSTOR 2138173.
- Fogel, R. (1964). Railroads and American Economic Growth: Essays in Econometric History (1st ed.). The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-0201-6.
- Goldin, Claudia (Spring 1995). "Cliometrics and the Nobel". The Journal of Economic Perspectives 9 (2): 191–208 [p. 206]. doi:10.1257/jep.9.2.191. JSTOR 2138173.
- Verleihung des Helmut-Schmidt-Preises 2009 an Richard Hugh Tilly
- The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 1993, Press Release, October 12, 2003.
- North, Douglass C. (1968). "Sources of Productivity Change in Ocean Shipping, 1600-1850". Journal of Political Economy 76 (5): 953–970. doi:10.1086/259462. JSTOR 1830031.
- Boldizzoni, Francesco (2011). The Poverty of Clio: Resurrecting Economic History. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691144009.
- Diebolt, Claude (2012). "Where Are We Now in Cliometrics? Kliometrie: wo stehen wir heute?". Historical Social Research 37 (4): 309–326.
- Rothbard, Murray (2002). A History of Money and Banking in the United States: The Colonial Era to World War II. Ludwig von Mises Institute. ISBN 0945466331.
- Boldizzoni, Francesco (2011). The Poverty of Clio: Resurrecting Economic History. Princeton University Press. Excerpt in The Montreal Review
- Drukker, J. W. (2006). The Revolution that Bit its Own Tail: How Economic History Changed our Ideas on Economic Growth. Amsterdam.
- Fogel, R. (1964). Railroads and American Economic Growth: Essays in Econometric History.
- Fogel, Robert William; Engerman, Stanley L. (1995). Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery (Reissue ed.). New York: W. W. Norton and Company. ISBN 0-393-31218-6.
- Lyons, John S.; Cain, Louis P.; Williamson, Samuel H., eds. (2008). Reflections on the Cliometrics Revolution: Conversations with Economic Historians. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-70091-7. Reprinted interviews from the Newsletter of the Cliometric Society
- North, Douglas (1965). "The State of Economic History". American Economic Review 55 (1–2): 86–91. JSTOR 1816246.
- North, Douglas; Thomas, Robert (1973). The Rise of the Western World: a New Economic History. Cambridge University Press.
- Economic History - The Rise Of Cliometrics Or The New Economic History
- Podcast Interview with Stanley Engerman of Fogel and Engerman's Time on the Cross on EconTalk at Econlib. The book that accelerated cliometrics.