Elizabeth Berman, UM Organizational Studies & Sociology

Thinking Like an Economist: How Efficiency Replaced Equality in U.S. Public Policy
Elizabeth Berman


Fall 2022
Lecture Time: 
Friday, September 23, 2022 - 1:30pm to 3:00pm
Lecture Location: 

R0240, Ross School of Business, Lower Level

Introduced By: 
Ariella Hoffman-Peterson


Between the 1960s and the 1980s, an “economic style of reasoning”—grounded in the discipline of economics but traveling well beyond it—became influential in Washington, and was institutionalized through legal and organizational changes. This new way of thinking had consequences for what policy options were considered and how policy decisions were made, and was particularly constraining for the left wing of the Democratic Party. Drawing from a new book that looks at how such changes played out across the domains of social policy, market governance, and social regulation, this talk will focus on what this transformation looked like in the realm of antitrust policy. Here, a domain that was once conceived of as balancing competing purposes, including promoting competition, limiting corporate power, and protecting small business, was rethought as focused on a single goal: protecting consumer welfare, understood as allocative efficiency. As this new approach was built into legal frameworks and decision-making processes in federal agencies, it narrowed the scope of legitimate debate in ways that persist to the present—with implications for our ability to address new forms of corporate power.

Recording & Additional Notes

Elizabeth Popp Berman is a sociologist whose work is at the intersection of organizations, economic sociology, and the sociology of science and knowledge. Much of her work focuses on recent U.S. history and emphasizes the role of public policy. Her book Thinking Like an Economist: How Economics Became the Language of U.S. Public Policy, is forthcoming from Princeton University Press. Her first book, Creating the Market University: How Academic Science Became an Economic Engine, won several awards from the American Sociological Association and the Social Science History Association.

Beth joined Michigan in 2019 from the University at Albany, SUNY, where she was associate professor of sociology. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and her MA and PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.