Robert Fogel and the Nobel Prize

Date:         Fri, 15 Oct 1993 15:59:33 -0600                                   
Reply-To:     H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion                   
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              <H-RURAL@UICVM.BITNET>                                            
Sender:       H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion                   
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              <H-RURAL@UICVM.BITNET>                                            
From:         "Jim Oberly, History Dept.,                                       
              U of Wisc-Eau Claire" <JOBERLY@CNSVAX.UWEC.EDU>                   
Subject:      Re: Fogel's Nobel Prize                                           

[From: IN%"71324.2445@CompuServe.COM" "Jon Wiener" 15-OCT-1993 14:53:42.83 [To: IN%"H-RURAL@UICVM.UIC.EDU" "Jim Oberly" [Subj: Fogel's Nobel Prize

Four days and a world of merit separated Toni Morrison's Nobel Prize in Literature and Robert Fogel's in Economics. Morrison's writings brilliantly expand the boundaries of American literature. Fogel's narrow the contours of history by viewing human experience as little more than a working out of market imperatives.

Fogel's first book speculated about how the American economy would have developed without the railroad. This is called counterfactual history (and has the distinct advantage that it cannot be disproved). His most famous work, "Time on the Cross," was counterfactual in a different sense--no recent scholarly work has seen its main conclusions so thoroughly discredited by other scholars.

Time on the Cross portrayed slaves as black Horatio Algers, who labored productively in the hope of achieving social mobility. It claimed to highlight blacks' "achievement" under slavery, but that achievement, it turned out, was to be docile, efficient slaves. The authors' mistake was believing that slaves' values could simply be inferred from economic data.

Evidently, the Nobel Committee has not heard that Time on the Cross has failed to survive in the marketplace of ideas. One will learn more about slavery from Morrison's novel Beloved. But, then, the purpose of the Nobel Prize in Economics is not to foster innovative ways of thinking about the world's economic problems, but to reinforce the hegemony of market ideology.

--THE NATION, Nov. 1, 1993, front page editorial.





Date:         Tue, 12 Oct 1993 11:18:28 -0600                                   
Reply-To:     H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion                   
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              <H-RURAL@UICVM.BITNET>                                            
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              <H-RURAL@UICVM.BITNET>                                            
From:         "Jim Oberly, History Dept.,                                       
              U of Wisc-Eau Claire" <JOBERLY@CNSVAX.UWEC.EDU>                   
Subject:      Robert Fogel and Douglass North win Nobel Prize                   

H-Rural and H-CivWar Readers--

My wife just let me know that Robert Fogel and Douglass North are the winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics. The timing (for me) was ironic because I was just working on two of Fogel's datasets, the sample of 8,500 black volunteers in the Union Army, and the parallel sample of 39,000 white volunteers in the Union Army. He collected the data as part of his larger project on mortality, diet, and economic growth. I'm using his data to compare to the stature and life course of Ojibway and Menominee Indian volunteers in Wisconsin regiments, as part of my own work on the transformation of their diet from one based on hunting and gathering to one based on trade commodities.

As for Douglass North, I remember hearing him give a talk about fifteen years ago when he had made the turn from quantitative studies and econometrics toward studying institutional history as a way of understanding economics.

I'll be interested in comments on the life's work of each of these two scholars.

--Jim Oberly, H-Rural Moderator


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Posted: 8 Jul 1994
 

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