What Knowledge is Useful? > Industries and Context
Khurana on Gay
Edwin Gay was the first dean of the Harvard Business School, and I think that he played a very unique role as a particular type of social entrepreneur, institutional entrepreneur. That’s partly connected to his biography, but also partly connected to what was going on in the discipline that he was trained in, which was economics.
Jeff Cruikshank and Tom McCraw in A Delicate Experiment outline a little bit the background of Gay, in particular his training in German universities, his focus on institutional economics, and his concerns with the role of larger institutions in society like the law. He wrote his dissertation on the enclosure movement in England, and how that created a particular form of capitalism in the UK. So he was very much concerned with broader institutions.
Now, what was happening in Edwin Gay’s discipline, economics, is you’re having this great divide going on in economics between the institutional economists who often use the tools of history, and study institutions as large social structures and their role in the economy, and the development of neoclassical economics. One that relied much more on mathematical abstractions than it relied on history or the study of what people actually do. And increasingly, institutional economists, like Edwin Gay, found themselves more and more marginalized in their own departments. Because they were often interested in connecting their ideas to actual organizations—actual activities that went on in society.