From Economics Imperialism to Freakonomics: The Shifting Boundaries between Economics and other Social Sciences (Economics as Social Theory)
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Is or has economics ever been the imperial social science? Could or should it ever be so? These are the central concerns of this book. It involves a critical reflection on the process of how economics became the way it is, in terms of a narrow and intolerant orthodoxy, that has, nonetheless, increasingly directed its attention to appropriating the subject matter of other social sciences through the process termed "economics imperialism". In other words, the book addresses the shifting boundaries between economics and the other social sciences as seen from the confines of the dismal science, with some reflection on the responses to the economic imperialists by other disciplines.
Significantly, an old economics imperialism is identified of the "as if market" style most closely associated with Gary Becker, the public choice theory of Buchanan and Tullock and cliometrics. But this has given way to a more "revolutionary" form of economics imperialism associated with the information-theoretic economics of Akerlof and Stiglitz, and the new institutional economics of Coase, Wiliamson and North. Embracing one "new" field after another, economics imperialism reaches its most extreme version in the form of "freakonomics", the economic theory of everything on the basis of the most shallow principles.
By way of contrast and as a guiding critical thread, a thorough review is offered of the appropriate principles underpinning political economy and its relationship to social science, and how these have been and continue to be deployed. The case is made for political economy with an interdisciplinary character, able to bridge the gap between economics and other social sciences, and draw upon and interrogate the nature of contemporary capitalism.
rational behaviour of the individual, with given ends in given circumstances. Sociology would consider the manner in which culture may mould these ends. History, in turn, would consider the spirit of the age and the manner in which the given circumstances had evolved. Here Weber is seen to have followed Vilfredo Pareto’s lead with his distinction between logical and non-logical action (Milonakis and Fine 2009, ch. 12). Even though economics and sociology might overlap in terms of subject matter,
constraints as part and parcel of the individual project of being rational, thereby, once more, retrieving part of the ‘irrational’ for rationality rather than allowing it as a separate and supplementary factor (Glimcher, et al. 2005, see also the brief further discussion in Chapter 10 in this volume). Thus, the non-rational becomes as if an external constraint on the individual’s rationality! 13 Interestingly, it is now well-established in speech therapy and language development that a concept
formal models – as emphasised by Dobb (1973) – suggesting that such equations are not analytically neutral for what they leave out, as well as for the way in which they structure what is brought in. See also Lawson (1997) for the notions of intrinsic and extrinsic closure. 15 See Souter (1933a and 1933b) and Parsons (1934) for contemporary criticism of Robbins of relevance to the themes developed here. 16 See Chapter 6 in this volume and also de Rouvray (2004, pp. 230–1) for discussion of
1985). The new institutional economics has always taken the perfectly competitive economy (transaction costless, fully informed) as its point of departure in order to explain why non-market institutions exist. As Putterman (1986, p. 1) observes, this initially gave rise to what he calls a ‘recent’ growing interest in the internal nature of the firm and its consequences for firm-market relations. The new literature has subsequently drawn heavily on the lead given by Coase, Simon and Williamson who
translating to social from individual choices. More generally, Mirowski (2007a) dubs Arrow the ‘Cowles poster boy’, with his popularity within the profession reflecting the irony of repudiating at one time or another each of the mainstream advances that he has himself made, and Cowles itself reflecting an interventionist stance at macro and micro levels (see also Mirowski 2007b). Thus, if like a latter-day Marshall, Arrow’s approach straddled both developing 144 Whither economics?