Modeling, Measuring, and Designing Economic Growth. The Neoclassical Growth Model as a Historical Artifact, 1930s-1960s

Ph.D. project Verena Halsmayer

In my dissertation project I investigated episodes from the history of one of the paradigmatic models of modern economics, the neoclassical growth model. I focused on its ingredients, the research practices of its construction, and its circulation. Hereby I took into account concrete research objects (newly created growth measurements, verbal accounts of capitalist in/stability, planning technologies such as input-output analysis or linear programming) as well as the beliefs, hopes, and preconceptions regarding (the amenability) of economic growth between the 1930s and 1960s. The small-scale, transparent model turned out to be much more than a contribution to economic theory: a manipulable and productive working object, an “engine of research”, a teaching device, an instrument for measuring “technical progress,” and a design for growth simulations we well as planning models. In addition to its functional and operational uses, it exhibited a visionary quality: it embodied the pragmatic-utopian vision of a possible future world that could be realized through Keynesian management of the “mixed economy.” Developing a life of its own, in the course of the late 1970s and 1980s, the model, however, was reinterpreted as a representation of how the economic world was brought into equilibrium by the frictionless working of market mechanisms.