Economics was introduced as “political economy” by Francis Wayland in 1828. William Gammell taught history and political economy from 1850 to 1864, followed by J. Lewis Diman from 1864 to 1881. The teaching of political economy continued as a subordinate duty of the history professor until late in the nineteenth century. When E. Benjamin Andrews resigned as professor of history, it was decided that the professorship of history and political economy should be divided into two parts. Henry Brayton Gardner was appointed associate professor of political economy in 1888, and a separate Department of Political Economy was first listed in the catalogue in 1889. The change of name to Department of Economics took place in 1906.
When Professor Diman reported on his class in political economy in 1869, he stated that “Instruction has been by lectures, and has included a general introduction to the study with an examination of the laws of Production, Exchange, Distribution and Consumption. The general design of the course has been to demonstate that wealth accumulates strictly in accordance with natural laws; that the interests of society are harmonious; and that all restrictions upon exchange are injurious.” The subject matter of economics has enlarged considerably since that time. A more timely definition is that economics is the study of rational decision making in the allocation of scarce productive resources among alternative goals. In the twentieth century students were beginning to ask for business courses, and in 1916 the University responded, first, by the presentation of a series of lectures sponsored by Edgar L. Marston on South American business and trade, and, second, by entering into cooperation with the National Bank as one of a group of selected universities invited to recommend each year three seniors and three juniors or sophomores to be trained by the bank for future service in its foreign branches.
In the 1920s the department grew through the addition of faculty members James P. Adams in 1921, Hugh B. Killough, Harry E. Miller, and James H. Shoemaker in 1924, Albert F. Hinrichs in 1926, George E. Bigge in 1927, Williams Adams Brown in 1928, and Chelcie C. Bosland in 1929. The Brown Bureau of Business Research was formed in 1921 by the Providence Chamber of Commerce and the Brown Department of Economics for the purpose of effecting a close business contact between Rhode Island business and the department. This came about largely through the initiative of Professor Ralph E. Badger of the Economics Department, who interested several prominent business men in the project. Its articles of agreement defined its primary purpose as the maintenance and operation of a research laboratory to study problems relating to commerce and industry in metropolitan Providence. In 1924 the Bureau inaugurated its official publication, Brown Business Service, subtitled “Analyses of Economic Conditions in Southeastern New England,” for distribution of timely information to the business community monthly from September to July. In 1927-28 the Bureau cooperated with the Division of Industrial and Municipal Research at M.I.T. in the industrial survey of metropolitan Providence. The Bureau continued as an agency of the University until 1939. In 1932 a grant was received from the Rockefeller Foundation for a study of the international gold standard under the direction of William Adams Brown and Carel J. Smit, who came to Brown from Amsterdam in 1932.
A textbook, Introduction to War Economics, written by members of the Department of Economics and edited by Professor Alfred C. Neal, was published in 1942. The authors, who began to write the book before the United States’ declaration of war on December 8, 1941, rushed to finish it in early January, and in six months 7,000 copies had been sold and were in use in more than one hundred universitites and colleges. Philip Taft, who became a noted labor historian, joined the faculty in 1937, and was chairman from 1949 to 1953. In 1952 Brown entered into cooperation with a newly appointed Business Executives’ Research Committee from the community to study the economic problems of Rhode Island with grants from the nationwide Committee for Economic Development and the Ford Foundation’s Fund for Adult Education. These studies were conducted by Professor Merton P. Stoltz, who had joined the department in 1940. Professor Stoltz later served as chairman from 1957 to 1964, and went on to become Provost and acting President of Brown. In the 1950s the department grew through the addition of faculty members George H. Borts in 1950, Jerome L. Stein in 1953, Michael J. Brennan in 1957, Phillip D. Cagan in 1958, and Martin J. Beckmann and Mark B. Schupack in 1959. In 1958 the department received a grant from the Ford Foundation to study regional economic development in the United States. The study was carried out jointly by Professors George H. Borts and Jerome Stein. A graduate program in regional economic development was established. In 1963 the department received a grant from the Ford Foundation to study the economics of aging. The study was carried out under the direction of Professor Philip Taft, together with Professors Michael J. Brennan and Mark B. Schupack.
In the 1960s the department grew through the addition of faculty members Herschel I. Grossman in 1964, James A. Hanson and Harl E. Ryder in 1965, Benjamin Chinitz in 1966, and Ryuzu Sato in 1967. New faculty members in the 1970s included Allan Feldman in 1971, J. Vernon Henderson and William Poole in 1974, and in the 1980s Louis Putterman in 1980, Rajiv Vohra in 1983, Oded Galor and Robert Moffitt in 1984, Peter Garber in 1985, Talbot Page in 1986, Anthony Lancaster in 1987, and Mark Pitt in 1989. From 1968 to 1980 the department housed the editorial offices of the American Economic Review, the main publication of the American Economic Association. During this period George H. Borts served as managing editor of the Review.
Among the chairmen of the department have been James P. Adams, George E. Bigge, Hugh B. Killough, Chelcie C. Bosland, Philip Taft, Merton P. Stoltz, George H. Borts, Benjamin Chinitz, Mark B. Schupack, Harl E. Ryder, William Poole, Herschel I. Grossman, and Rajiv Vohra. The department offers a variety of courses in micro- and macro-economics, labor markets, industrial organization, financial markets and institutions, public finance, international trade and finance, monetary theory and policy, econometrics, regulation, economic development, general equalibrium, game theory, welfare economics, and urban economics. In addition to the standard undergraduate concentration in economics, there is a concentration in business economics. The department also offers a bachelor of science and a bachelor of arts degree in Applied Mathematics and Economics, and a graduate program leading to the Ph.D. degree. There is no master’s degree program as such, but the degree is awarded to students who have successfully completed the first year of the Ph.D. program.