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Genres of the Credit Economy: Mediating Value in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Britain

Author(s):Poovey, Mary
Reviewer(s):Mitch, David

Published by EH.NET (January 2009)

Mary Poovey, Genres of the Credit Economy: Mediating Value in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Britain. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. x + 511 pp. $59 (cloth), ISBN: 978-0-226-67532-9.

Reviewed for EH.NET by David Mitch, Department of Economics, University of Maryland ?- Baltimore County.

In recent decades, literary critics have generated a body of scholarship that they have come to label the New Economic Criticism. This body of work defies ready summary but suffice it to say that it represents the interest of literary critics in economic literature and matters economic from a variety of perspectives. It has become sufficiently extensive to be the subject of the edited volume by Woodmansee and Osteen (1999). New economic critics are publishing book length studies with major academic presses, hold important chairs in university literature departments (e.g. Marc Shell at Harvard, Catherine Gallagher at Berkeley), and are producing new generations of literature doctorates. Mary Poovey (Samuel Rudin Professor in the Humanities and Professor of English, New York University) is one of the leading new economic critics and her latest work Genres of the Credit Economy can be seen as a contribution to this field and certainly draws heavily on it; on pages 10-14 she provides her own distinctive overview of this field of literary criticism.

Poovey?s book itself is an exercise in what could be called genre analysis and it is both apt and ironic as she herself notes on p. 14 that her latest work further confirms her own originality in producing new intellectual genres. This ability is already on display in one of her earlier books, A History of the Modern Fact (1998), which can be described as a history of epistemology in work on economic and social affairs. That book put forward the plausible, albeit provocative, claim that by the first half of the nineteenth century, writers on economic and social affairs had come to emphasize quantitative measures regarded as objective facts as the foundation of knowledge and policy discussion in contrast with a previous skepticism of such facts. The social constructionist perspective evident in her 1998 book is amply on display in her latest effort. To my mind, she is fundamentally correct in the underlying premises both of her earlier book and of her new one. A History of the Modern Fact presumes that ?quantitative objective facts? in actuality entail considerable amounts of political and social interpretation (e.g. election vote counts, census population totals, national income measures, cost of living and poverty indexes). Her latest book presumes that the functioning of a modern credit economy fundamentally entails elements of trust. I suspect that one could readily find widespread agreement with both premises with the latter in particular being perhaps self-evident. However, in the case of her earlier book there are issues to be raised regarding her chronology of changing cultural attitudes towards quantification in social affairs, her degree of mastery of vast bodies of both contemporaneous literature and more recent historiography, and the extent to which the changes in epistemological cultural attitudes she maps out are primarily relativistic or have entailed genuine social progress. For a quite skeptical take on Poovey?s earlier book by a leading historian of science see Margaret Jacob?s essay in History and Theory (2001).

?Genres of the Credit Economy states in its opening sentences that it tries to address two questions that arise from Poovey?s earlier book: ?If the kind of knowledge that contemporary society values is really the modern fact, then why does the discipline of Literary studies matter? What can Literary scholars do?? (p. 1). As Poovey explains in a footnote to this passage, these dilemmas arise insofar as prioritizing facts tends to devalue the activity of interpretation, the activity that would seem the focus of Literary studies. Although Poovey at points (p. 14) labels her latest book as a history, its chronological development is less linear than in her previous History of the Modern Fact. Her latest book alternates between tracing general intellectual trends and fine-grained textual analysis of specific works; she jumps back and forth in time in her consideration of various genres. After setting forth her general thesis that imaginative, economic, and monetary forms all emerged as distinctive genres in response to the rise of a credit economy, the core of Poovey?s text consists of detailed readings concentrating on modes of argumentation, organization, and style in selected works of economic and imaginative literature written in Britain between 1650 and 1870.

Poovey acknowledges that other intellectual genres that she does not consider were involved in the modern differentiation of economics and literary criticism; she points in particular to natural philosophy (p. 5). However, she notes ?a conviction that many contemporary scholars share ? that economics and Literary studies have some special relationship to each other.? She goes on to argue that the two fields should be studied together because of a common concern with what literary critics term the problematic of representation. Poovey defines the problematic of representation as ?one way scholars describe the gap that separates the sign from its referrant or ground (of value or meaning), whether the gap takes the form of deferral, substitution, obscurity? (p.5). It is perhaps apparent why the relation between sign and referrant should be an on-going concern of literary scholars; however, she argues that financial crises have also brought this problem to the fore in the fields of economics and finance and that it is useful to consider the parallel treatments of this problem in the cases of the two disciplines. She also takes note of the frequent employment of financial themes by nineteenth century British novelists.

Another term sometimes used by literary critics also recurs throughout her discussion: naturalized (or alternatively naturalization). By naturalization Poovey means a process by which behaviors which are initially new and strange and hence subject to suspicion and scrutiny become customary and taken for granted. She emphasizes its importance for the use of new types of monetary instruments in a credit economy: ?money has been naturalized: through the social process that I describe in this book, money has become so familiar that its writing has seemed to disappear and it has seemed to lose its history as (various forms of) writing? (p.3). To highlight the significance she attaches to these two terms, she introduces each of them by placing them in italics in the text (pp. 3, 5). And one of Poovey?s central claims is that both naturalization and the problematic of representation were central to functioning of money in the rise of the modern credit economy.

In a preamble, she describes the emergence of imaginative literature, financial writing, and monetary instruments as distinctive written genres over the course of the eighteenth century in Britain. She argues that all three genres developed as ways of ?naturalizing? the use of money and hence of dealing with the problematic of representation inherent in monetary instruments: that such instruments frequently only symbolize some underlying item of value without guaranteeing access to the item itself.

The first two self-identified chapters of the book consider writing about money in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The first chapter takes up the attention given by contemporaries between the late seventeenth and early nineteenth century to the problematic of representation inherent in money. She backs into this through looking at J.R. McCullough?s collection of pamphlets dealing with money. She gives particular attention to Joseph Harris? ?An Essay upon Money and Coins? published in 1757-58, in which he challenges the ideas that either the imprint on a coin?s face or its metallic content is its source of value. Then after quickly touching on Locke?s views on the nature of money, she fast-forwards to debates in the early nineteenth century involving Ricardo, McCullough, and Macaulay among others on the desirability of convertibility between coins, paper money, and bank notes. In the last section of the chapter, Poovey offers the intriguing suggestion that writing regarding money in the eighteenth century frequently blurred the distinction between fact and fiction and she identifies a fact/fiction continuum in this regard. The second chapter looks at episodes in what she identifies as generic differentiation of treatments of Money. She notes that Defoe?s work frequently blurred fact/fiction distinctions and in particular focuses on a manuscript of his since labeled Roxanne. Poovey argues that it was later editors who classified this work as fiction; she suggests that one of Defoe?s aims in this text was the non-fictional one of explaining the workings of credit. One example of the insights her literary background provides is her observation (p. 98) that Defoe employed the classical oral rhetorical device of elaboration, i.e. offering long lists in order to engage listeners in an imaginative flight, in written form, with a similar aim of engaging the reader?s imagination. She turns to parallels between James Steuart?s work on Political Economy and Fielding?s novel Tom Jones, noting similarities in the treatment of personal character in each. She then notes Adam Smith?s more abstract mode of argumentation in contrast with Steuart?s more fictionalized narrative. The chapter concludes with observations on the blend of fact and fiction in Thomas Bridges? Adventures of a Bank-Note (1770-71), a work based on depicting the perspective on passing surroundings a bank note might have as it made its way from holder to holder, including intervals when tucked in a woman?s bosom (p. 149).

A first ?interchapter? then takes up the rise of book publishing and of the issuance of bank commercial paper. This really constitutes her brief notes on matters that are pertinent to issues elsewhere in the book; as she notes herself, these issues have been taken up in much greater depth by other authors; indeed each of these topics deserves and has been given book length treatment by others and I did not find the 17 pages she devotes to them sufficient to add much further insight to this other work.

Chapters three and four take up the emergence of economic writing as a distinctive set of genres in the early nineteenth century. Chapter three takes note of increasing skepticism about the workings of the growing credit economy. It examines publications by critics of paper money such as William Cobbett and John Francis Bray. Chapter four takes up the differentiation of writing on economic theory from financial journalism. After giving relatively brief attention to David Ricardo?s employment of abstraction in his theoretical work, she focuses at some length on J.R. McCullough as a writer engaged in both economic theory and journalism. She then turns to Walter Bagehot?s and D. Morier Evans? emergence as specialized economic journalists while attributing to William Stanley Jevons the effort to define economics as a narrow specialist science, giving particular attention to his interest in developing a sun spot theory of the business cycle. Poovey?s general argument in this chapter is that economic journalism and abstract economic theory became increasingly differentiated in the early to mid nineteenth century as part of a social process of naturalizing credit instruments. Economic journalists such as Bagehot and Evans instilled familiarity with the financial system and depicted the occasional crash or panic as an aberration from normal stability. At the same time the emergence of abstract economic science as practiced by Jevons with his work on sunspot theory ? precisely because it employed arcane, mysterious techniques apparently at variance with observable reality ? in Poovey?s view helped establish an expertise which could testify to the value of bank money. This authority provided a way of dispelling doubts about credit instruments implied by the problematic of representation.

Chapter Five then turns to literary authors and suggests that Wordsworth and Coleridge were keen to separate aesthetic from commercial value in literature. Poovey suggests that their concerns were motivated by the growth in demand for cheap popular publications. In a second interchapter, Poovey notes that recent work by literary critics on Harriet Martineau employs formal aesthetic criteria of organic unity in evaluating Martineau?s work though claiming to deviate from literary formalism. She then proposes an alternative approach to interpretation she labels ?historical description? as a means of engaging with texts while placing them in a larger historical narrative. She illustrates her approach in Chapter Six which offers meticulous readings of novels by Austen, Dickens, Eliot, and Trollope focusing on passages in which financial matters come to the fore. Her arguments include the audacious economic determinist claim that Jane Austen?s Pride and Prejudice was in large degree a response to the Bank Restriction Act of 1797: the breach of promise to redeem bank notes with gold explicit in the Bank Restriction Act according to Poovey motivated Austen?s interest in portraying Elizabeth Bennett?s concern about her potential broken promise to thank Mr. Darcy.

The book concludes with a four page ?Coda? in which Poovey bemoans both the low current prestige of literary studies in comparison with that of economics in modern American and British universities and the divide that has arisen between the two disciplines.

Recent economic events would seem to make it abundantly evident that the modern economy is a credit economy and that loss of confidence in credit instruments and their underlying connection to value can wreak economic havoc. Thus, Poovey?s theme is certainly timely. The book itself raises numerous stimulating questions and surveys a wealth of literature both past and more contemporary with which I, for one, was not previously familiar.

One general issue of evaluation posed by her book is that implied by the questions she poses in her introduction ? namely whether a post-modernist literary critic can bring any useful tools to bear in understanding the history of economics, economic history or modern economics. Quite possibly, new economic critics, including Poovey, are aiming their work primarily at fellow literary critics; but as Poovey herself wonders in the passage cited above from her introduction, should those outside of this guild take the burgeoning body of work by new economic critics seriously?

Difficulties are certainly evident with the scope of Poovey?s book. While the range of her reading is impressive both in contemporary sources and in the more recent historiography both of social scientists and literary critics, there are notable omissions in her surveys of relevant literature. Moreover, at points she openly acknowledges not having completed her scholarly homework and assumes an alarmingly nonchalant attitude about not having done so. These issues surface when at points she fails to distinguish or at least elides the fields of economic history and the history of economic thought. This shows up in a particularly egregious manner in her introduction (pp. 9-10) in which she admits her inability to trace out the relationship between the modern discipline of economics and its nineteenth century precursors and blames this on the lack of interest of modern economists in the history of their discipline. She then states (p. 10), ?I can only hope that some day an economic historian will write a version of this history from the other side so that Literary scholars like myself can see how this discipline?s present informs the way we understand its past.? I presume that she means ?historian of economics? rather than ?economic historian? in this passage. Poovey clearly has done some reading in the history of economics and indeed even cites such standard works as Schumpeter?s History of Economic Analysis. I am not clear on what are the requirements for Poovey?s desired ?history from the other side? or why Schumpeter?s work or Mark Blaug?s less compendious Economic Theory in Retrospect or the Warren Samuels, Jeff Biddle, and John Davis edited Companion to the History of Economic Thought would not suffice. It would seem that Poovey simply ran out of energy in trying to master the history of economics as well as modern economics. So why undertake to write the parallel histories of economics and literary criticism from a modern perspective unless one is prepared to take on the admittedly formidable task of reading reasonably deeply in the comparison discipline as well as one?s own discipline? Later (p. 94) she claims that ?economic historians rarely consider Defoe?s writing at any length.? However, the works she cites to illustrate this are all histories of economics. No mention is made of early modern economic historian Peter Earle?s book entitled The World of Defoe.

Given Poovey?s focus on the rise of the credit economy, a particularly glaring omission from her bibliography is Anne Goldgar?s Tulipmania (2007), which provides particularly rich documentation of the psychological reactions and issues of trust and betrayal associated with the mid-seventeenth century Dutch tulip bubble. Perhaps Goldgar?s book came out too late for Poovey to incorporate it in her own analysis. In her discussion of the problem of monetary shortage no mention is made of the important study by Thomas Sargent and Francois Velde, The Big Problem of Small Change (Princeton, 2002).

Central parts of Poovey?s argument are often based on a complex and extensive secondary literature. While she does have her own distinctive take or twist in most of these instances, she frequently does not succeed in the space she has allotted in convincingly expounding the arguments and evidence in question. For example, her claim that money is simply one form of written literary genre comes across as a bit contrived in the 25 pages she devotes to it in comparison with Deborah Valenze?s book length study, The Social Life of Money in the English Past or Carl Wennerlind?s article ?Money Talks but What Is It Saying? Semiotics of Money and Social Control.? Poovey (p. 59) does acknowledge and cite extensively from Valenze?s work while arguing for her own greater emphasis on the role of other written genres in naturalizing money as a genre.

I found the organization and coverage of Poovey?s book rather fragmented and indeed cubist in nature; by cubist, I mean offering shifting perspectives on a given object rather than a cohesive, continuous overview. This may in large part reflect her unabashed use of the tools of literary criticism. Rather than attempting any sort of comprehensive or connected overview, Poovey picks and chooses particular works for intensive analysis. While her choices are intriguing, they also seem idiosyncratic. I was unaware before reading Poovey?s book of Thomas Bridges? Adventures of a Bank Note; and its premise of a banknote?s eye view of the world is interesting. However, it is less evident to me that this work is central to understanding eighteenth century literature on finance.

Although Genres of the Credit Economy considers examples of how the fields of economics and literary criticism treat the problematic of representation, at the end of the day it doesn?t really develop the comparisons and contrasts between them. This, in part, stems from the book?s cubist organization as it jumps back and forth between time periods and subject areas and genres without offering a developed concluding chapter that pulls together her take on how writing on finance and economics has dealt with the problematic of representation inherent in financial markets in comparison with how literary studies have done so.

Poovey?s book itself has the phrase ?mediating value? in its subtitle; at points she does take up the contrast between market value and aesthetic value. And she does note issues regarding the influence of market criteria on aesthetic values raised both by nineteenth century authors and subsequent critics; both groups of writers essentially employed aesthetic values to assess the workings of the market. Yet she does not consider work by economists that discuss the engagement between the market and the aesthetic, both using the market to evaluate aesthetics and the use of aesthetics to evaluate the market. Thus no mention is made of the work of David Galenson, among others, that uses art auction prices as a means of assessing relative artistic or aesthetic merit or the work of Tyler Cowen that argues that market forces of competition lead to cultural richness and diversity rather than bland homogeneity, as is commonly alleged. Nor does she consider arguments by Cowen (2008) regarding how literary works can provide fodder for developing economic models, nor Frank Knight?s claim that ?economics is a branch of aesthetics and ethics to a larger degree than of mechanics? (1935, p. 97) ? and she only briefly touches on the work by McCloskey regarding rhetorical forms in economic argument.

Poovey?s choice of end point for her study in the 1870s would seem to derive from her focus on the relationship between the problematic of representation and the rise of the credit economy. She argues that by the 1870s the field of economic theory had become differentiated from financial journalism. Both endeavors in her view served to naturalize how the credit economy deals with the problematic of representation ? financial journalism by providing familiarity and economic theory by providing the authority of the technical expert. In the meantime, imaginative writing and literary criticism had begun to develop its own distinctive approach to the problematic of representation through emphasizing elite aesthetic values over popular taste in literature.

However, by abruptly ending her account of disciplinary differentiation in the 1870s, it seems to me that Poovey forestalls consideration of important aspects of both continuity and change central to understanding evolving contrasts and relationships between the economic and literary fields of endeavor. One literary genre that has been persistently used by economists and writers on economics over the centuries as a means of reaching general audiences is the parable and its kindred, the fable and the allegory. She does give some mention to Daniel Defoe?s and Harriet Martineau?s use of the parable. Yet the continuity of this tradition would seem worthy of further consideration. She makes no mention of Mandeville?s Fable of the Bees (though she does give brief attention to Mandeville in History of the Modern Fact). And after taking up Martineau in the second interchapter, Poovey drops further consideration of this genre. But notable nineteenth century practitioners include Frederic Bastiat in France and more recently in the U.S. Paul Heyne and Russell Roberts, as well as the pseudo-nominal Angus Black and Marshall Jevons among others. (Richard Stern, the novelist, was invited to review Marshall Jevons? Fatal Equilibrium for the Journal of Political Economy under George Stigler?s editorship and Stern did not give it very high literary marks.) Perhaps Poovey?s focus on the financial sector accounts for her decision to treat this genre only briefly. However, Hugh Rockoff?s article on the Wizard of Oz as a monetary allegory and subsequent literature (Hansen 2002; Dighe 2002) suggests scope for literary critics to consider the persistence of this genre even with a narrower focus on financial and monetary matters.

The employment of the genres of the parable, fable, and allegory in economic writing raises the more general question of whether an examination of the relationship between economics and literature should focus on how each field has engaged with ethics, the nature of human happiness, politics, and social policy. It can be argued that increasing concerns to establish economics as a science, with strong empirical and formal foundations ? i.e., to distinguish economics from political economy on the one hand and to emphasize the importance of aesthetic, conceptual and formalistic concerns in the study of literature on the other ? have displaced or at least obscured an underlying concern with ethics and human well-being common to both economics and literary studies. These are issues of long standing pedigree (see for example the work of Frank Knight, Lionel Robbins, Matthew Arnold, Chris Baldick, Wayne Booth, and Deirdre McCloskey). While this theme is not given much consideration in Poovey?s book, it is a central focus in the book by Poovey?s student, Claudia Klaver, A/Moral Economics. However, many of the key developments in this regard in both disciplines seem to me to have occurred in the later nineteenth and early twentieth century as each became increasingly centered in academic institutions. Despite Poovey?s claim that it is common concern with the problematic of representation that leads to an inherent affinity between economics and literature, one might well think that the underlying architectonic discipline is ethics rather than economics or literary criticism despite intellectual imperialistic tendencies of each of these latter two disciplines. But Poovey?s 1870 cutoff for her study would seem to preclude examination of this issue.

Poovey?s take on the differentiation of economics and literary studies does allow for both external, societal influences and internal disciplinary considerations in both fields. However, it seems to me that she does put more emphasis on external social influences in the cases of economics and financial journalism than literary studies, casting British economists and financial journalists as running-dog lackey apologists for an emerging credit economy. One danger of genre analysis is that genres themselves become reifications based on overly rigid boundaries between fields of intellectual endeavor. One central issue she poses is the degree of specialization which has occurred not only between such broad spheres of endeavor as writing on economic affairs and imaginative literature but also within such spheres. One of the chief merits of Poovey?s study is bringing into play a rich array of ephemeral and journalistic publications in conjunction with more enduring classics of economic theory. Poovey?s underlying premise is the common presumption of the inevitability of increasing intellectual specialization. In her account, eighteenth century writers such as Defoe and Smith covered a broad range of topics even within a given work ? with Defoe in particular blurring the fact and fiction distinction in his coverage of financial affairs. Then in the early nineteenth century, in her view, work on economic theory came to be distinguished from writing aimed at popular audiences, in turn distinguished from coverage offered by financial journalists. Similarly, literary writers were increasingly concerned to emphasize the importance of distinctive aesthetic imperatives from those of the market for popular literature. In her concluding ?Coda,? she suggests that in the early twenty-first century, it is unusual for academic economists to produce work aimed at a general audience, citing in a footnote Steven Levitt?s Freakonomics and Robert Shiller?s Irrational Exuberance as exceptions, while it is even rarer in her reckoning for literary critics to write for general audiences.

However, taking the case of economics, it is of interest to consider longer term trends in the extent to which prominent economists have continued to cross the borders or even simultaneously engage in not only academic work on economics but also economic policy making, business endeavors, and writing aimed at student and general audiences, even if economists in general are not necessarily renaissance people. One can begin with the case of David Ricardo, who at various points in his career engaged in stock broking and service in Parliament as well as writing on economics. If Ricardo?s writing on economics was in some sense more intellectually specialized than Adam Smith?s, he was far more engaged than Smith in business and political endeavors. And although Poovey depicts William Stanley Jevons as emblematic of the narrowing of economics into a largely theoretical, mathematical, and university-centered discipline, she considers only his work on marginal utility and sun spot theory. She makes no mention of Jevons? influential policy-oriented publications including Methods of Social Reform, The State in Relation to Labour, and The Coal Question. And there is certainly a long line forward of prominent academic economists who have been active in policy circles as well as producing introductory textbooks and other literature aimed at general audiences such as Alfred Marshall, John Maynard Keynes, Paul Samuelson, and Milton Friedman. Currently Ben Bernanke?s introductory economics textbook is still in print and coming out in new editions while he serves as Federal Reserve chairman following his quite successful academic career at Princeton and another Princeton academic, Paul Krugman, the latest Nobel laureate in economics, is also an introductory textbook author, New York Times columnist, and television talking head ? to name just a couple of many possible current examples. And academic economists have also pursued financial ventures, as the notorious 1997 episode of Nobel-laureates Robert C. Merton?s and Myron Scholes? involvement in the Long-term Capital Management debacle illustrate. In other words, the increasing specialization of texts by genre does not necessarily reflect a corresponding specialization of the authors who write them. In the case of economics, one could explain some of this by the extensive market both for textbooks and popular economic commentary in contrast with, say, fine imaginative literature. Publishers, perhaps, have much stronger economic incentives to induce leading economists to produce introductory textbooks and work aimed at popular audiences than to do the same for literary critics. Books by Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, or Stanley Fish may not have the sales potential of those by Milton Friedman or Paul Krugman. But this still leaves the ongoing pattern of those who have pursued successful careers in both academic economics and economic policy-making from John Maynard Keynes to Lawrence Summers.

A parallel issue unexplored by Poovey and presumably occurring after her end period of the 1870s is the apparent increasing separation between those who write imaginative literature and those who produce criticism of it. The examples of literary criticism she cites in chapters 5 and 6 are primarily by those also engaged in imaginative writing such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Trollope. This raises the question of whether the divide between those who write imaginative literature and those who produce literary criticism has become wider than the gap between those who write on economic theory, those who craft economic policy, those who write economic journalism, and those who engage in financial affairs. And if this is the case, what accounts for the greater degree of specialization by those engaging in literary studies than in economic studies? Have the underlying ethical commitments of economists to social well being been stronger than those of more ivory tower literary critics? Although Poovey does not explore these issues, her mode of genre analysis should at least be credited for giving rise to them.

Poovey mentions J.R.McCullough?s activity as a book and pamphlet collector but omits consideration of those in subsequent generations who engaged in this activity. Some might infer that an increasingly analytical mind set resulted in the extinction of the economist bibliophile, although Poovey herself does not explicitly state this. However, W.S. Jevons, who in the eyes of literary scholars such as Claudia Klaver and Poovey had quite narrow analytical interests, in fact appears to have been a quite keen economics bibliophile. By Keynes? account, Jevons transmitted this bug onto the famed economics book collector and Cambridge economist, Herbert Foxwell. And Keynes himself was an avid antiquarian book collector (Keynes, Essays in Biography; Harrod, Life of Keynes). The importance of the book and pamphlet collector for establishing the dimensions of various intellectual realms and genres may warrant further consideration. Foxwell?s collections formed the basis for both the Goldsmith?s and Kress libraries and these collections have now entered electronically searchable cyberspace as the Making of the Modern World database. Keynes thought highly enough of Foxwell?s contributions to economic science as to pen a 23-page obituary for the Economic Journal on Foxwell?s demise in 1936.

Despite the limitations that I think are evident in Poovey?s book, the genre perspective she offers is worthwhile for pointing to alternative intellectual boundaries and for posing questions that may not readily occur to those working within the disciplines she considers. She usefully brings into play a rich array of contemporary and ephemeral literature bearing on economic and financial matters. And her notion of the fact-fiction continuum raises interesting issues about alternative relationships between evidence and theory. The new economic criticism more generally can be seen as providing economists and more specifically historians of economics and economic historians a means of addressing what could be called the Robert Burns problem: seeing ourselves as others see us. My own impression is that while historians of economics and economic historians have not totally ignored the new economic criticism, they have hardly embraced it with enthusiasm. Offsetting any inclination to welcome those with an interest in one?s own subject matter, are likely primordial instincts to defend professional turf boundaries and claims of scholarly expertise. Furthermore, I suspect that much of the new economic criticism is grounded in an ideological outlook that some historians of economics would perceive as uncongenial. Thus Poovey in her concluding Coda (p. 419) refers to ?the longing for an alternative to the market model.? The extent and complexity of this body of work is a further reason for outsiders to neglect it; the new economic criticism, at least from this reviewer?s limited experience, is not an easy read yet there seems lots of it to process before one can claim to have much sense of it. Nevertheless, the new economic criticism probably does deserve further attention by historians of economics and economic historians. As Robert Burns reminds, seeing ourselves as others see us can free us from many a blunder and foolish notion as we become more aware of the louses crawling on our own bonnets.


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David Mitch is Professor of Economics, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (email: He is the author of ?Market Forces and Market Failure in Antebellum American Education: A Commentary? Social Science History (Spring, 2008). He is currently revising an essay on ?Chicago and Economic History? for the forthcoming Elgar Companion to the Chicago School of Economics and is also working on high stakes educational testing in Victorian England.

Subject(s):Social and Cultural History, including Race, Ethnicity and Gender
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):19th Century