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Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited$
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Catelijne Coopman, Janet Vertesi, Michaeland Lynch, and Steve Woolgar

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780262525381

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2014

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262525381.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM MIT PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.mitpress.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright The MIT Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in MITSO for personal use.date: 21 September 2021

Legitimizing Napkin Drawing: The Curious Dispersion of Laffer Curves, 1978–2008

Legitimizing Napkin Drawing: The Curious Dispersion of Laffer Curves, 1978–2008

Chapter:
(p.269) 13 Legitimizing Napkin Drawing: The Curious Dispersion of Laffer Curves, 1978–2008
Source:
Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited
Author(s):

Yann Giraud

Publisher:
The MIT Press
DOI:10.7551/mitpress/9780262525381.003.0013

The Laffer curve is a graphical representation of how government revenues vary with the level of taxation. Allegedly, it was first drawn on a cocktail napkin by one of US President Ronald Reagan’s advisors in the 1970s. Since then, it has been routinely reproduced in economics textbooks. This chapter provides an historical account that shows a sharp contrast between the formal triviality of the curve and the complexity of its circulation through various communities of economists, policy advisors, propagandists, and journalists. The chapter shows that the dispersion of the Laffer curve presents two peculiarities: first, unlike many other diagrams used in economics, popular instantiations of the Laffer curve preceded its “academization” in professional economics; second, in spite of numerous transformations in the process of circulation, the curve’s canonical presentation as a symmetrical, bullet-like diagram was reinforced over time. The discussion in the chapter attributes these peculiarities to the community dynamics that sustained and circulated the curve.

Keywords:   Laffer curve, Diagrams in economics, Political propaganda, Dispersion of visual representations, Economists as policy experts

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