The Department of Economics (originally called the Department of Political Economy) awarded its first PhD in 1878 to Henry Adams, who later became a distinguished professor at the University of Michigan and a co-founder of the American Economic Association (AEA). Richard T. Ely, another co-founder of the AEA, was among the department’s first faculty members. Foreshadowing the future direction of the profession, Ely and Simon Newcomb, a professor of mathematics at Hopkins, engaged in a contentious academic dispute about the role of mathematics in economics during the department’s early years. Newcomb supported its usage while Ely argued for the historical approach. Ironically, while Newcomb’s view has prevailed, it is Ely who is honored with a distinguished lecture at the AEA meetings and a lecture series here on Homewood campus.

Since Ely and Newcomb’s time, many remarkable faculty members and graduate students have conducted research at Johns Hopkins. By the 1950s, even though the department employed only seven full time faculty members, it had grown to one of the best departments in the country. Faculty at the time included Evsey Domar, Simon Kuznets (who later won a Nobel Prize), and Fritz Machlup, and produced such stars as Nobel Prize winners Merton Miller (PhD ’53) and Robert Fogel (PhD ’63).

The department experienced its next phase of notable growth in the early 1990s, when a number of high-profile researchers joined the department, including Robert Moffitt from Brown University, Larry Ball from Princeton University, Mark Gersovitz from the University of Michigan, Peyton Young from the University of Maryland, and Chris Carroll from the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

Most recently, the department founded the Center for Financial Economics (CFE). Conceived in the late ’90s by economics faculty and alumni in the global finance industry, the Center for Financial Economics was founded on the belief that the principles of finance had strayed too far from their economic underpinnings. More than just another finance department, the CFE opened its doors in 2007 with a mission to build a bridge between economics and finance, theory and practice, quantitative analysis and social understanding – all within an expansive liberal arts framework. With the CFE came another round of exciting hires, and the department is yet again on strong and steady footing and is often ranked as one of the top economics programs in the United States.