Annals of the Fondazione Luigi Einaudi

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Economics, History and Political Science

The Annals is a forum for the free exchange of ideas
among scholars working in the field of social sciences
Volume LIII 2 - 2019

Stefano’s Face: Comment on ‘Spleen: The Failures of the Cliometric School’, by Stefano Fenoaltea

Alberto Baffigi,
pp. 31-48
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I agree with Stefano. On all the three facets of cliometricians’ activity – economics, history, and economic history – we can spot the sign of a failure. Cliometricians recognized that economic history needs help from economics in order to overcome its serious methodological flaws; but they failed to realize that economics, in order to be useful, needed some help too, from history. Context is all for history, but also for economics. Stefano argues that cliometricians, mostly American, failed because their narrow, provincial cultural background kept them from catching up with French post-modernism. I would argue that they failed because they disregarded American pragmatism, which might well have saved their souls; they didn’t lack a cultural background on which to build a sounder methodology, they simply chose to ignore it. I conclude that three specific failures don’t add up to an overall failure. Too many cliometricians may remain wedded to whiggish and naively positivist views, but ours is an open and lively discipline, and it cannot be penned into one orthodox enclosure.