Ian Kumekawa is a Prize Fellow in Economics, History and Politics at the Center for History and Economics. He obtained his PhD in History at Harvard University in 2020, 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. He is also interested in the history of bureaucracy and the digitial humanities, especially network visualizations.
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 is currently working on two other book projects. The first, entitled Imperial Schemes: Empire and the Rise of the British Business-State, 1914-1939 emerges from his dissertation, which was a finalist of the Herman K. Krooss Prize fo best dissertaiton in business history. It 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. During the years between World War I and World War II, the state grew rapidly, frquently in ways that have been neglected. 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. 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.
The second book project focuses on global political economy in the late 20th century. It centers around a barge used variously as a service vessel for offshore oil rigs in the North Sea, a troopship in the Falklands, a floating jail in New York, and a collateralized asset in Nigeria. Through a variety of sources, including interviews, legal documents, and archival records, the project brings intellectual, and legal historical methods to the history of capitalism. In short, it tells the story of the neoliberal transformation of the economy through the narrative of a ship and the thousands of people who were berthed on it, foregrounding the hidden material infrastructures that have enabled globalization and offshoring over the past four decades.
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