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The Most "Scientific" Of Social Sciences
by Denny Lancaster
-- December 15, 2004
Economics, being the most "scientific" of the social sciences, the most ready to formulate laws, is particularly apt to provoke conflict. The present debate over the "new economy," with its emphasis on the use of models and of econometric techniques, is an example. Methods in any case have brought into prominence the question of the range of the deductions from economic theory possible at any point in time, and the question whether economic theory becomes less valid as we move further into the realities of the modern economy. 

Denny Lancaster

Nineteenth-century Europe "disembedded" the economy from the social structure, freed economic motives from social control and set in motion a process by which economic considerations came to dominate society. "Once the economic system is organized in separate institutions, based on specific motives and conferring a special status, society must be shaped in such a manner as to allow that system to function according to its own laws". To understand less developed societies, in which economic relations are still "embedded" in the social system (or in Mauss's terminology, economic transactions cannot be separated from the "faits sociaux totaux" in which they are incorporated) we need a new theories economics. In non-market societies the economy cannot be distinguished by reference to an interrelated flow of rational calculations.

This record throws an interesting light on preoccupations which Polanyi came to express much later in Trade and Market. His concern there with the problem of defining "the economy" is indeed a typically essentialist one; but his decision to concentrate on institutions and the operational analysis of patterns of economic behavior in "applying the substantive approach... to a classification of empirical economies and... trade, money and market institutions" is nominalist. Process and institutions together form the economy. Some stress the material resources and equipment - the ecology and technology - which make up the process; others, like myself, prefer to point to the institutions through which the economy is organized. Again, in inquiring into the institutions one can choose between values and motives on the one hand and physical operations on the other, either of which can be regarded as linking the social relations with the process. Perhaps because I happen to be more familiar with the institutional and operational aspects of man's livelihood, I prefer to deal with the economy primarily as a matter of organization, and to define organization in terms of the operations.

This preoccupation and disposition has its deep roots in our early and continued involvement in the Appalachian area, our concern for the homeless and descending my ivory tower in favor of hands on experience with the drudgeries of farming, including the reformation of bio mass, milking and other menial and non academic efforts.

Given the opportunity, I would compel my colleagues to descend into the "colony of ants" and learn first hand the realities of mankind and in the process become more compassionate and understanding of we mere mortals. There is no greater teaching instrument or effort than to physically walk in the shoes of another man.

Denny Lancaster
Copyright 2004
All Rights Reserved

About the Author
Denny is the Compliance Manager of Award Sites!  He is also the owner of the Lancasters Laughing Place site and the elite Award Sites! 5.0 rated Talking Hands Award Program . . . and has excellent knowledge of W3C and WAI issues.  Professionally, he is a retired senior partner, tax attorney specializing in international finance.  Moreover, Denny administers a private foundation which builds free enabled computers for deaf and blind persons throughout the state of Alabama . . . and is a talented poet.

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