Beth Popp Berman

Beth Popp Berman at the Jain Family Institute

Last Friday, Beth Popp Berman came to our office to discuss her forthcoming book, “Thinking Like an Economist: How Economics Became the Language of Public Policy.” More about the book, and its first two chapters, here.

Beth described how the 1960s-era Planning-Programming-Budgeting System, at the Defense Department, influenced the spread of econ-focused techniques throughout government. New schools to train people in this kind of policy, and new research institutes to hire them, locked in the change.

The PPBS approach was pioneered at RAND. Beth showed a startling slide of RAND consultants and staff from the 1950s, including “Armen Alchian, Kenneth Arrow, James Buchanan, Robert Dorfman, Albert Hirschman, Tjalling Koopmans, Paul Samuelson, Thomas Schelling, Theodore Schultz, Robert Solow.”

To give an example, under this style of economic reasoning, community-focused anti-poverty programs were seen as inefficient, compared to the NIT. In Robert Levine’s words: “Organization of the poor was not readily assimilable into the model.”

See page 15 here for more on these dynamics.

Thank you so much to Beth for presenting on this history. We’re looking forward to the book.