This is the website of Erwin Dekker, historian and economist working at the the intersection of culture and economics. I am currently Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University (Fairfax, VA). Previously I worked for about ten years in the department of cultural economics at Erasmus University Rotterdam.
Ordoliberalism and German culture, Nov. '23
I have a new review out in the Ordo Yearbook of Kenneth Dyson's major book on Ordoliberalism and Conservative Liberalism. The book is an impressive study of the moral underpinnings of ordoliberalism, but as I argue ignores their Protestant inspirations, and in particular their protestant anthropology, with its hopeful view of individual conscience and responsibility. A broadly similar review was earlier published (open-access) at eh.net.
Why the Impressionists did not create Impressionism w/ Lies De Strooper, Aug. '23
Really a new publication, because it is so much fun I put it in this column. In this new paper in The Journal of Cultural Economics, Lies De Strooper and I look at why the Impressionists (many of them in Frederic Bazille's studio in the picture below) were so reluctant to market themselves as such. We argue that although they shared a good deal of interests which made them organize alternative exhibitions to the Salon, but they were unwilling to be part of a collective, because they either believed their own reputations were stronger, or that it would alienate potential customers.
Podcast on Realizing the Values of Arts, June '23
On this episode of the Hayek Program Podcast, Stefanie Haeffele interviews Erwin Dekker and Valeria Morea on their new book, Realizing the Values of Art: Making Space for Cultural Civil Society. Dekker and Morea discuss their concept of cultural civil society, how art is practiced in creative circles and co-creative communities. They consider the environment from which prominent art movements emerged in the modern day, highlighting case-studies on hip hop, festivals, and a queer museum, and analyze the role of public policy in the worlds of art and equality.
5 Best books on Culture and Econ, February 2023
The Shepherd, a book full of cool lists and recommendations asked me to recommend my 5 favorite books which demonstrate that cultural knowledge helps us understand the economy.
Podcast w/ Malte Dold on Ordoliberalism, Jan. 2023
Second episode of the miniseries on Ordoliberalism on the Hayek Program Podcast. I was joined by Malte Dold, and we examined some distinctives of ordoliberalism, particularly on the nature of individuality and citizen sovereignty. We also discussed the ordoliberal contrast with James Buchanan's work, and Dold explains why he views ordoliberalism as a school of political economy rather than simply a school of economic thought. We conclude with a discussion about ordoliberalism and the European Union.
Reading Tinbergen at the Royal Economics Society, January 2023
The Royal Economics Society just published its 200th Newsletter, with an interesting Angus Deaton interview and an article looking back on Tinbergen's legacy by me.
Podcast w/ Stefan Kolev on Ordoliberalism Nov. 2022
On this episode of the Hayek Program Podcast, I was joined by my friend and co-author Stefan Kolev, to kick-off a miniseries on ordoliberalism. We discuss what ordoliberalism is and why it maintains relevancy for the modern day. Additionally, we examine the historical progression of ordoliberalism through the years and tackle how it compares to other schools of economic thought in its contemporary orbit. Kolev also gives his thoughts on a continuing research program for ordoliberalism and its followers.
Hayek and Social Change Blog, May 2022
Hayek's theory of the market process and social processes has always stood out to me for its emphasis on coordination and gradual adjustments rather than visionary entrepreneurs who shift the course of things. But Hayek's theory of social change in the Constitution of Liberty is surprisingly elite-oriented. I explore this tension here, and suggests some stepping stones for an alternative Hayekian theory of social change.
Knowledge Commons podcast, April 2022
During a recent visit to the Centre for the Study of Governance and Society at King's College London I recorded a podcast about the 'Governing Markets as Knowledge Commons' co-edited with Pavel Kuchar. Mark Pennington and I talk about cities as knowledge commons, the importance of connections between people and knowledge as a contribution good as well as the downsides of a 'cultural economy'.
We also contributed a blog piece on the epistemological break in economics, that is the difference in the concepts, perspective and values by which economists and the public understand the economy, and argue that economists should take everyday understandings much more serious.
Cambridge Blog Knowledge Commons, Dec. 2021
In the ordinary business of markets there is more going on than just the interplay of competitive forces. What we want to talk about is that “more” that is going on.
We will illustrate with the story of a man who would become known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, an athlete who holds the all-time NBA record in scored points.
“Put your best offer on the table; I will choose.” That was what Lew Alcindor, who eventually became the world-famous basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, proposed to the Milwaukee Bucks and the New York Nets, two professional basketball teams, in 1969. No back and forth, no negotiations. One offer, and one offer only, from each team.....(continue reading)
New job at Mercatus Center
I started my new job as Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center in George Mason University, officially in July, but because of travel restrictions we only had it over in November. Many opportunities to continue expanding my work on the history of economics and institutional economics, as well as the ability to participate in our wonderful fellowship programs for students at any stage!
Book Launch 'Jan Tinbergen and the Rise of Economic Expertise' w/ James Heckman, Esther-Mirjam Sent, Philip Hans Franses and Arjo Klamer, June 2021
Economic Sociology w/ Peter Boettke, June 2021
For his graduate course on economic sociology Peter Boettke (GMU) interviewed a number of leading thinkers in the field including Granovetter, Jens Beckert. The conversation with me is now also online.
The Limits of Expertise in Volkskrant, May 2021
Op-ed in which I argue that scientific expertise should serve society, not the state. I argue that the position of the expert institutes in the Netherlands such as the RIVM and the CPB makes this hard, so close to the state make this virtually impossible. With reference to the night-train critique of Tinbergen's first model.
NRC Interview on Tinbergen, May 2021
Interview with Bart Funnekotter of NRC on Tinbergen, his work and disappointments.
Kelder & Co interview on Tinbergen, May 2021
Saturday the 8th of May I was interview by Jort Kelder for his radio-show Dr. Kelder & Co on Radio 1 (In Dutch). Video included with the link.
Tinbergen and Postwar Reconstruction, May 2021
Tinbergen and the his role in the Reconstruction after WWII covered in the Dutch newspaper 'De Telegraaf' on May 4th.
Tinbergen and the United Nations, April 2021
De Nederlandse Vereniging voor de Verenigde Naties (NVVN) publiceert een speciaal dossier met 75 verhalen over de VN ter ere van het 75-jarig bestaan. Mijn bijdrage beschrijft Tinbergen's bijdrage aan de VN.
Podcast on Buchanan, March 2021
A new podcast episode of Ceteris Never Paribus, the History of Economic Thought Podcast in which I interview Alain Marciano and Peter Boettke about James Buchanan, his work and the archive at George Mason.
Tinbergen and Covid-19, Nov. 2020
How would Tinbergen have responded to the COVID-19 Crisis.
My reflections (in Dutch) at the celebration of
75 years of Central Planning Bureau.
Karl Polanyi and the Ordoliberals, Nov. '23
Karl Polanyi and the neoliberals, including the ordoliberals are often presented as radically opposing reactions to the democratic and economic crises of the middle of the twentieth-century. But as I demonstrate in this article in ORDO, their diagnosis of the crisis was actually strikingly similar, and even in the way they theorized the relationships between state, market and society has interesting commonalities. To top it off I suggest that even in their conception of freedom in a complex society might be much closer than is commonly believed (open-access link to an earlier version).
The Turkish State Planning Organisation, Oct. '23
Alp Yenen and Erik-Jan Zurcher have published a wonderful popular history of Republican Turkey in 100 Fragments. I have contributed a short chapter on the founding of the State Planning Organisation, with which Tinbergen was intimately involved.
Community Governance and Private Governance w/Pavel Kuchar, September '23
Pavel Kuchar and I have a new paper out in Public Choice which provides a more fine-grained analysis of the differences between community and private governance of markets. We argue that the literature has often unjustly grouped these two quite different forms of governance together. To do this we distinguish between different elements of market governance, the evolution of rules, the administration of rules and ownership and the enforcement of these, to demonstrate that community governance is especially key to the development and maintenance of rules.
Book Symposium on Tinbergen Biography, Sept. '23
The TSEG - The Low Countries Journal of Social and Economic History has a symposium on my Tinbergen biography in Dutch, with contributions from Aad Blok, Ad Knotter, Alfred Kleinknecht, Leen Hoffman & Jan Pronk and a response from my end.
Book Review: Paul Sagar on Adam Smith, June '23
I reviewed Paul Sagar's book 'Adam Smith Reconsidered: History, Liberty and the Foundations of Modern Politics' for the Journal of Economic Methodology, with special attention to the political theory and latent public choice analysis in Smith's work.
Article: Smith at 300, June '23
The Journal for the History of Economic Thought has a wonderful symposium with great contributors reflecting on their favorite Adam Smith quote, to celebrate the 300th birthday of the great Scotsman. My contribution discusses a relatively obscure Smith line: "Prose is the Stile in which all the common affairs of Life, all Business and Agreements are made. No one ever made a Bargain in verse." I reflect on why Smith believed that prose language, not verse was the language of the bourgeois era, and how well this holds up in our modern cultural economy.
Book: Realizing the Values of Art w/ Valeria Morea, March '23
My new book on the arts is out, co-authored with the amazing Valeria Morea (now at Erasmus University Rotterdam). The subtitle of the book is 'Creating Space for Cultural Civil Society', and the key argument of the book is that the arts are best understood as forms of aesthetic and socio-political imagination and realization in cultural civil society. We contrast this with economic approaches who think mostly of the arts as part of the creative industries and policy-approaches who think of the arts mostly as something which is instrumental for the realization of various policy goals. Our approach is inspired by the Value-Based-Approach and places values, in the plural, central. We call this approach pragmatic, because it is interested in how artists realizes values, and we start from their goals rather than those of policymakers or other experts.
Article: Elizabeth van Dorp, the first Dutch female economist, December '22
In Oeconomia Willem Cornax and I contextualize the political-economic thought of Elizabeth (Lizzy) van Dorp (1872-1945), the first professional economist in the Netherlands. She graduated in law, but around WWI moved to economics and joined the editorial board of De Economist. Even before that she published extensively on the question of women's right to work. Surprisingly given her Austrian economic outlook and classical liberal convictions in nearly all policy questions, she opposed the right of (proletarian) women to work. We position her work in the debates of the time, and try to make sense of this (apparent) contradiction.
Article: The economics of stigmatized firms, November '22
In the Journal of Institutional Economics, Julien Gradoz and I analyze through the lens of transaction costs how stigma shapes firm behavior. We connect the literature on stigma in the management literature with the literature on repugnant transaction in economics, to theorize the relation between individual feelings of repugnance, and the social process of stigmatization. Then we show how stigma constrains the ability of firms to find business partners, ad space and personell through a case-study of Pornhub. In the case-study on Sears and Roebuck we demonstrate that stigmatization sometimes happens for strategic reasons by competitors who seek to keep the company out of the market. If this happens, it might well lead to increased negative moral sentiments, such as the racist sentiments which are mobilized against Sears and Roebuck.
Article: Carl Menger, German Political Economy, and Adam Smith, October '22
Stefan Kolev and I contextualize Menger's contributions with respect to the German Political Economy of his age. We demonstrate the continuity with the German subjectivist tradition and mid-century theoretical work such as that done by Roscher. But another strand of empirically oriented historical work comes out of Roscher's legacy, what is commonly known as the German Historical School. We demonstrate that this leads to a contest over Roscher's legacy and the future direction of German political economy. This leads to a big divergence in the 1880s, and the formation of an 'Austrian School'. The 1890s are a period of convergence, when the 'social question' also arrives in Vienna and all Menger's students embrace the new policy-oriented orientation of German-language economics. Menger refuses to join. Instead he rediscovers the social agenda of Adam Smith and the classical economists, most notably in the piece we translated here: https://econjwatch.org/articles/the-social-theories-of-classical-political-economy-and-modern-economic-policy.
Article: Tinbergen and Thinking in Orders, August '22
An underlying theme of my book on Tinbergen is that he should not be read as an equilibrium theorist or neoclassical economist, but that much of his work is more fruitfully understood as political economy. This new article in History of Political Economy develops that argument in detail and suggests that Tinbergen thought in terms of institutional order, much like his ordoliberal (German) contemporaries. Along the way I lay out his vision of a truly international economic order, an ideal which was once upon a time shared by liberals on the right and left. It is part of a mini-symposium edited by Stefan Kolev, on the broader tradition of thinking-in-orders.
Special issue about William J. Baumol, August 2022
A special issue on the work of William J. Baumol, the prolific economist, famous for his work on entrepreneurship, institutions, the cost disease, economics of the arts and the economics of telecommunications is now out at Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology. I edited the issue and wrote an introduction to the issue which highlights the diverse and heterodox inspirations of Baumol, which he tried to force into the straitjacket of neoclassical economics.
Article: Exemplary Film Directors and Quality Norms, May 2022
This article in Cultural Sociology has been a long time in the making and was finished with Julien Gradoz, it looks at how a shock to the American film market (European competition), changes the way critics look at films and what are considered exemplary films and directors. It continues earlier work of mine (and with Pavel Kuchar) on exemplars, specific instances of goods or creators, which serve as reference points in discussion of qualities and the coordination of markets.
Article: Mengerian Theory of Knowledge and Economic Development, May 2022
In this open-access Cosmos + Taxis paper Pavel Kuchar and I situate Carl Menger's work on economic development in the endogenous growth tradition. We suggest that his theory of money can help us understand the relevance of both increasingly heterogenous capital goods and integrative institutions such as money, language and legal frameworks.
Article: Tinbergen in Turkey, March 2022
History of Political Economy will have a special issue on travelling economists. I have contributed a paper that looks at Jan Tinbergen's role in the founding of the State Planning Organization in Turkey, modelled after the Dutch CPB. The article argues that from the very start the organization was a contested and politicized institution within Turkish politics, as well as within the international political context. It traces Tinbergen's only partially successful effort to navigate these tensions and create some autonomy for the organization. The article concludes with some reflections on how Tinbergen learned from his experiences in Turkey.
Article: 'Deirde McCloskey and the Epistemological Break' w/ Pavel Kuchar, Jan 2022
One of the major implications of Deirdre McCloskey's work is that language matters in how we talk about the economy. This is true for how economists talk about the economy, hence the need to analyze the 'rhetoric of economics'. The same is true for everyday discourse. The great beakthrough of her Bourgeois Virtues trilogy is to study how everyday conversations about the economy, trade and the dignity of economic actors shifted during the 17th and 18th century. We challenge whether we should go further and also give more credence to everyday critiques of the economy. Not just bourgeois virtues, but also proletarian virtues. And proletarian critiques.
Publication was delayed. This appeared in the final issue of 2020 of Schmoller's Jahrbuch, which came online in January 2022.
Chapter: 'Interpretative Rationality and Markets with an Infinite Variety of Goods or Services'
New book chapter in a volume on the empirical methods of Austrian Economics.
This chapter analyzes markets with an “infinite variety” of goods, such as large parts of the service economy and creative industries such as the book, film, and music market. I argue that the infinite variety of supply that characterizes such markets does not lead to discoordination, because of the emergence of cognitive institutions in the form of market categories, reference points such as exemplary goods, and instruments of interpretation which facilitate the (quality) coordination process. These cognitive institutions function as an extended mind of market participants and enable what is termed interpretative rationality, as distinct from calculative rationality. This interpretative rationality consists of the ability to recognize relevant differences and similarities between goods. These cognitive institutions, like the price system, are an emergent order which can be analyzed through the lens of Austrian economics. This chapter further demonstrates the potential convergence between particular strands of economic sociology and Austrian economics.
Article 'Communicating Identity: How the Symbolic Meaning of Goods Gives Rise to Market Types, w/ Carolina Dalla Chiesa, Jan. 2022
A new open-access article with Carolina Dalla Chiesa (recently Ph.D.-graduate at Erasmus) on the way in which symbolic consumption concerns shape firm behavior in the Review of Social Economy.
We start from the realization that consumption has symbolic meaning, which individuals use to communicate and construct their identity to their social networks. We argue that firm behavior (including size, pricing and marketing strategies) must be congruent with the symbolic meaning of goods. We distinguish between two stylized meanings of goods, status and taste, which we derive from the socio-anthropological literature on consumption. We argue that these different meanings, articulated by consumers to communicate their identity, give rise to three ideal-typical market types. We present the institutional differences between these market types as well as the implications for firm behavior and demonstrate how firm behavior and marketing strategies differs significantly from markets in which the symbolic meaning of goods is relatively unimportant. We use the recent transformation of the beer market by the craft-beer producers, to illustrate our theory.
Review of Pooley & Fonatine - Society on the Edge, Jan. 2022
My review of the fascinating edited volume about the Social problems approach to studying society is now online at Oeconomia (open-access). Pooley and Fontaine have collected a fascinating set of essays in their 'Society on the Edge' which discuss how the approach to so-called social problems changed over time, although I disagree at important points about what caused the more micro-foundational approach which gained traction since the 1960s.
New Book! Governing Markets as Knowledge Commons, Dec. 2021
It is out 'Governing Markets as Knowledge Commons' co-edited with Pavel Kuchar! The books demonstrate how markets are enabled by shared cognitive infrastructures, sustained by deliberate and unintended contributions from market participants. Governing these knowledge commons is crucial to make markets thrive. The more theoretical chapters provide a new conceptualization of knowledge as a contribution or shared good: dependent on the ability to crowd in a sufficient number of contributions and partially excludable because knowledge has to be put in practice to be understood. The empirical chapters illustrate how knowledge commons such as the blockchain, informal credit networks, product categories and production techniques of single malt whiskey, and spaces of social interaction in the creative industries enable markets to function and innovate.
Review of Cowen - Neoliberal Social Justice, Nov 2021
A book review of Nick Cowen's Neoliberal Social Justice in the Journal of Economics. The book is an attempt to update Rawls Theory of Justice based on modern economic insights, in particular those of public choice and the Austrian tradition. I question whether it deserves the name neoliberal: "Given Cowen’s sympathy for Hayek and Buchanan one would expect that he would seriously consider their work on economic rights and constitutional protection of these rights. Whether one believes egalitarianism or political citizenship is the true cornerstone of Rawls project, it is clear that Rawls was perfectly willing to give up individual economic liberties for other goals (Taylor 2021). Cowen does the same; it is important for him that interventions do not distort the price system but not whether they violate basic economic rights."
A Social History o/t Ostrom Workshop, August 2021
Beatrice Cherrier and Aurélien Saïdi have edited a wonderful special issue on the role of workshops, conferences and seminars in the history of economics. It does a great job of focusing on creative communities rather than individuals. Pavel and I contributed a social history of the Ostrom Workshop.
Needs in 2nd ed. of Menger's Principles, August 2021
The second edition of Menger's Principles has been largely neglected: not widely available and unfinished. But one thing is for sure Menger drafted an entirely novel first chapter for the second edition, my article in the special issue on Menger of the Research in Economic Thought and Methodology takes a close look at the new theory of needs he present, including how individual needs might give rise to collective goods.
Heterarchy w/ Pavel Kuchar, July 2021
An encyclopedia (of Law and Economics) article about the complex but fascinating concept 'Heterarchy' that refers to mutually incompatible valuation systems or governance systems with no clear hierarchy between them with my favorite co-author.
We actually provide a defintion:
"Heterarchy is a complex adaptive system of governance, an order with more than one governing principle. Heterarchies include elements of hierarchies and networks, but in a number of important ways, heterarchies are different from both of these systems of governance. The model of heterarchical governance is like plate tectonics: mutually self-contained orders with unclear hierarchies among them."
Translation of Tinbergen's "Mathematical Psychology' July 2021
Together with my EUR colleagues Conrad Heilmann, Stefan Wintein and Ruth Hinz we translated one of the key articles in Tinbergen's oeuvre 'Matematiese Psychologie' as 'Mathematical Psychology, which contains in early form many of his key ideas on measurements, experiments, a just income distribution and the no-envy principle. It is now out in the Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics.
Hayekian Perspectives on Politics, Apr. 2021
The new issue of Cosmos + Taxis features a symposium
on Scott Scheal's book 'F.A. Hayek and Epistemology
of Politics'. Reflections from Peter Boettke, Roger Koppl,
Eric Schliesser and and me on 'The Political Process as
Experimentation and Learning. With a highly critical rejoinder
Social Science and Pandemics, March 2021
Stefan Kolev and I reflect on what PPE insights can contribute to handling the Corona-pandemic in the Italy-based journal Power & Democracy in 'Why a Pandemic Needs Social Science'.
Crowdfunding Artists, Socio-Econ Rev., March 2021
Why do artists not frequently return to crowdfunding platforms despite the fact that success rates hover around 80% of the platforms? We provide a socio-economic explanation based on interviews with artists, from which we demonstrate that many of their projects fail to break out of existing offline networks. Nonetheless crowdfunding platforms are an interesting new intermediary for artists, not in the least because it might be a stepping stone from amateur to professional status.
Paper co-authored with Carolina Dalla Chiesa now online at the Socio-Economic Review.