Border cases between autonomy and relevance. Economic sciences in Berlin – A natural experiment

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The faculty of economics at today’s Humboldt University in Berlin, as no other institution of economics, has witnessed three radical ruptures in its history: in 1933, National Socialism replaced the pluralism prevailing in the Weimar Republic by imposing a “German economics”; after WWII, GDR authorities replaced this NS regime by imposing a Marxist imperative, which after the fall of the wall was replaced by the Western standards of neoclassical economics. In reconstructing these three reforms, institutional history can serve as a context in which questions about the political nature of economic knowledge can be answered that remain speculative in a conceptual context. I thus present a natural experiment in the political epistemology of economics: How do economists respond to, resist, and stabilize, changing political regimes? How do economists renegotiate the autonomy of economic knowledge given changing demands as of its social task? Among others, I show that contrary to Robert Merton’s old, but still widely held thesis in political epistemology—that the values of science are compatible only with democratic regimes—the totalitarian and authoritarian regimes created better conditions for methodological pluralism in economics than democratic society.

This content has been updated on 7 November 2019 at 10 h 55 min.