Ian Kumekawa is a Ph.D. candidate in the History Department. He obtained his MPhil at the University of Cambridge in 2013 and his A.B. at Harvard College in 2012. His work focuses on the history of economic thinking and imperial statecraft in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
His book, The First Serious Optimist (Princeton University Press, 2017) examines the intellectual origins of welfare economics, focusing specifically on its founder, Cambridge economist A.C. Pigou (1877-1959). Pigou was one of the twentieth century's most important and original thinkers. Though long overshadowed by his intellectual rival John Maynard Keynes, he was instrumental in focusing economics on the public welfare and his reputation is experiencing a well-deserved renaissance today, in part because his idea of "externalities" or spillover costs is the basis of carbon taxes. The First Serious Optimist tells how Pigou reshaped the way the public thinks about the economic role of government and the way economists think about the public good. It was co-awarded the 2017 Joseph J. Spengler Best Book Prize from the History and Economics Society. You can read the introduction here.
Kumekawa's dissertation, tentatively entitled Imperial Schemes: Empire and the Rise of the British Business-State, 1914-1939 narrates how the British state was transformed by imperial experience in the years leading up to the creation of the postwar welfare state. It examines how imperial knowledge and administrative expertise undergirded the expansion of state capacity, particularly concerning economic management. Contrary to most historical accounts, which paint state growth in the 20th century as a triumphalist story for the British left (either liberal or labour), the state’s growth was never a uniquely left cause. During the years between World War I and World War II, the state grew rapidly, but in ways that have been ignored by historical scholarship. The state expanded to mollify the governments of restive dominions. It expanded to further its geopolitical influence overseas. But most importantly, it expanded in order to lend a hand to British business. The dissertation is a story of state growth, but it is equally one of state capture and imperial domination. Imperial dreams of wealth and power, imperial schemes meant to assist industry and finance, and the growth of the domestic state were closely interrelated in the early 20th century. The project tells these stories by following policymakers and unelected administrators who carried out the policies that forged the modern business-state. Focusing attention on this “meso-level” across nearly two dozen government departments and private organizations, the dissertation highlights the importance of the administrative state and of bureaucracy itself. It throws back the curtain on the hidden, backstage dealings that enabled and responded to British imperial expansion, both in formal colonies and informal markets. In so doing, it narrates interwar British imperialism and greed in a new way: through the administrators and advisors who pushed British power abroad and expanded the state’s power at home.
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