Call for papers

The 7th Annual Conference of the Italian Association for the History of Political Economy (STOREP) will be hosted by the Department of Sociology and Social Research and the Department of Economics of the University of Trento from May 30th to June 1st 2010.
Proposals for sessions or submissions of papers concerning any aspect of the history of economic thought are welcome.

Paper abstracts of no more than 200 words or a brief (≤ 400 words) description of theme, motivation, authors and paper titles for a session should be submitted to The deadline for submissions is January 31st, 2010. The Scientific Committee will send notice of acceptance or rejection within February 20th, 2010. Completed papers will be due by May 10th, 2010.

The special theme of the conference is The shifting boundaries between public and private in economics.
The financial and economic crisis has once again demonstrated the importance of having clear ideas about the relationships between the public and private spheres in economics. Caught by the surprise of circumstances, governments have intervened massively in national economies and tentative steps are being taken to change the rules of the global financial and economic game. These developments are forcing economists and policy makers to revise their ideas about the boundaries between public and private. The history of economic thought provides a rich source of theories about this topic and it would be inefficient not to make use of it.

The distinction between public and private in economics is common wisdom since Aristotle’s differentiation between politics as the management of the city state, and economics as the conduct of the household. The relationships between the public and the private spheres lie at the foundation of Adam Smith’s research programme. His work is in part a critical reaction to Bernard Mandeville’s idea that private vices generate public benefits. With the exception of Mandeville and some libertarians, however, few economists have ever doubted that markets and social and political institutions, such as governments, can coexist. Either subsystem of the national or global economy has tasks that it can perform more effectively or efficiently. Keynes’ insistence on the role of fiscal policy is but an example of a full array of studies emphasizing their complementarity. It is generally agreed that a specific legal and social framework is needed to make markets work while markets generate the means with which to finance collective or public goods.

There is far less consensus about the ways in which the public domain may correct, or hamper, the functioning of the market and vice versa. Moreover, ideas on where the boundary between the two lie are subject to abrupt changes, especially in times of sudden and violent financial and economic shocks. For instance, according to economic analysis, banks, except for central banks, are private enterprises. The crisis, however, has shown that their malfunctioning is a public bad and policy makers were forced to conjure up ad-hoc measures to save banks that were too big to fail. This was tantamount to admitting that a system of private banks is a public or collective good. Yet too little had been done to safeguard its positive externalities.

Public and private domains are not completely complementary; there remains a set of goods and services that are desired by citizens yet fail to be produced by either. They are provided instead by private initiative and spontaneous social organizations in the form of collective goods, club goods and goods that are transferred for nothing from one individual to another. This continuously changing space between market and government, often referred to as “civil society”, has been examined with varying intensity in economics and in sociology. Here lies the domain of discussions on issues such as the type of pension and health insurance systems, the role of the State versus philanthropy in the redistribution of wealth, and federalism. Also, recent experimental evidence invites economists to reconsider the line that separates subjective or private costs and opportunities from objective factors such as the limits of our mental capabilities.

The purpose of the special theme of this year’s conference is to illustrate how the reasoning in terms of the boundary between public and private in the history of economics can provide a better insight on public policies, social organisations and individual behavioural patterns.

VII STOREP Conference Young Scholars Award
The award is open to young scholars (under 35 years of age). In order to be eligible, one is required to submit a Curriculum Vitae and a paper abstract of no more than 200 words on any topic relevant to the history of political economy. The authors of the selected papers will receive a contribution of 200 euro to cover board and accommodation. Please submit the request to by January 31st, 2010. The results of the selection process will be communicated by February 15th, 2010.