Machine Dreams: Economics Becomes a Cyborg Science.

Author:Hisnanick, John J.
Position:Book Review

Machine Dreams: Economics Becomes a Cyborg Science, by Philip Mirowski. New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2002. Paperback, ISBN: 0521775264, $35.00. 655 pages, references, and index.

What is economics? A typical response might be, "It's what economists do!" But what, really, do economists do, and what can those in the discipline expect as we head into the twenty-first century? To fully engage any discussion about what the future holds for economics requires an understanding of and insights from its past. In Machine Dreams: Economics Becomes a Cyborg Science, economic historian Philip Mirowski provides a controversial but substantive reinterpretation of the history of postwar American economics, as well as a critique of formal microeconomic theory. Given how the discipline has evolved since the middle of the twentieth century, the author argues for a different style of economics, one that relies on an alliance of computational and institutional themes, as well as one that challenges the notion that there is nothing besides American neoclassical economic theory. This book reflects Professor Mirowski's ongoing research interest in tracking the role of the natural sciences on the structure and content of the orthodox (neoclassical) tradition in economics. In this installment, he provides an extensive discussion that documents the manner and extent that economics has become a "cyborg science." In addition, he discusses how economists' fascination with machines has and will continue to shape the future of the discipline.

The cyborg sciences depend on the existence of the computer, a tool that has provided economists everything from assistance in research activities to the output of research products. Machine Dreams links the literature on the cyborg sciences found in scientific studies to economics, an element missing in the current economic literature. The author's analysis combines Cold War history with the history of post-World War II economics. Postwar economic theorists in the United States were deeply influenced by the military infrastructure that was built up from the 1940s onward. Much of present-day economic thinking can be traced to such postwar institutions as RAND, the Cowles Commission, MIT's Rad Lab, and the economic departments at the University of Chicago, MIT, and Yale.

The author discusses the notion of how deeply implicated in military-funded research most economists were on one hand and the degree to which...

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