Is this unfair? Yes, No. But what about later? Here is a prediction and a hope: Without ever forgetting the journalist, people will learn to read "all" of the work . . . toward that which opens itself up there.
- Derrida [1988b, 591].
It means they haven't read the text.
- Derrida [1995, 129].
"The rigged-in-advance aspect of deconstruction has bothered a number of critics," wrote one such critic, Gerald Graff [1980, 416]. Graff was referring to a theoretical superstructure that determines in advance what a deconstructionist will find in a text no matter what the author intended to say or what the simplest meaning of the text implies. The fairness of this blanket critique is debatable, but it seems beyond debate that Mark Covaleski, Mark Dirsmith, and Sajay Samuel created a case study of the rigged-in-advance aspect of deconstruction. They nicely summarized deconstruction as practiced in Anglo-American academic circles over the past 30 years, and they raised interesting questions about public utility regulation. But then, blinded by the need to fit Commons into a set of rigid categories, they overlooked the unique nature of his intentions as a writer, erroneously portrayed him as an advocate of bureacracy, and in the process raised serious questions about the value of deconstruction for institutional analysis.
The nature of deconstruction is such that any attempt to correct erroneous portrayals must highlight omissions at every step of the argument. This paper, therefore, follows the Covaleski, Dirsmith, and Samuel outline (hereafter CD&S). It starts where they started, with a consideration of deconstruction in general, focusing, however, on the advanced rigging that predetermines the outcome of a deconstruction. Next, it argues that this advanced rigging prevented CD&S from grasping the unique way in which Commons interacted with the intellectual currents of his age. Similar predeterminations led them to wrongly assert that Commons advocated bureaucracy because of its formal impersonal properties and because it empowered allegedly neutral experts. A final section argues that though institutionalists can learn from the philosopher Jacques Derrida, they should think twice, or maybe 10 times, before jumping on the deconstruction bandwagon.
The Advanced Rigging
Derrida started deconstruction in the course of questioning the Cartesian assumptions supporting as an ideal the modernization familiar to economists from the writings of Gunnar Myrdal and Max Weber [Myrdal 1968, 57-68; Habermas 1987, 2-11; Weber 1958, 25]. Derrida almost always developed his arguments as commentaries on texts written by others. American literary critics adapted his methods to their own textual criticism, and academics in other fields gradually followed the lead of the critics. The rigged-in-advance nature of deconstruction follows from Derrida's terminology, from his latent intellectual assumptions, and from terminology developed by his followers.
Derrida developed his terminology using metaphor and analogy, rather than strict definition, and he usually developed this terminology in the framework of polar opposites. For example, after noting that Jean-Jacques Rousseau applied the term "dangerous supplement" to masturbation as opposed to cohabitation with women, Derrida showed how cohabitation can be considered the "dangerous supplement" to masturbation. He then applied this analogy to writing as being the "dangerous supplement" to speech [Derrida 1976, 149-157]. In a similar fashion, he developed a number of terms such as logocentrism, presentism, pharmakon, inside/outside, and so forth.(1) Because they emerge in a context of criticism and metaphor, and because postmodern philosophers reject any pretense of rigid scientific definition, the terms tend to expand, shed their skins, and slip through one's fingers. The need to use all these terms creates the most obvious rigging of deconstruction. Less obvious, but just as predetermining, is a set of intellectual assumptions.
These assumptions range through philosophy, anthropology, linguistics, and psychology.(2) Derrida dissented in each field, but from each he took assumptions. In philosophy, he took from Friedrich Nietzsche the tendency to view all moral argument as a mask for the will to power, and from Martin Heidegger, he took the notion that where one exists determines what one knows. In anthropology, he adopted Claude Levi-Strauss's contention that the community, not the person, is the source of myth. In linguistics, he took from Ferdinand de Saussure the conception of language as a system within which the meaning of any word is determined by its difference from other words, and in psychology, he adopted Sigmund Freud's emphasis on the role of the unconscious. The net result is a decentering of the human person and a leveling of discourse. The decentering of the human person leads the deconstructionist to pass over the conscious intentions of the writer in favor of hunting around for texts upon which to hang Derrida's terminology. The leveling of discourse leads to the assumption that all language, whether scientific, technical, or poetic, is essentially the same.
In addition, Derrida's followers developed more terminology so that past deconstructions determine future deconstructions. CD&S, for example, selected terminology from Gerald E. Frug's deconstruction of legal arguments about bureaucracy . Frug summarized and then criticized four models, or "ideal types," of legal argument - the formalist model, the expertise model, the judicial review model, and the market/pluralist model. The formalist argument for bureaucracy rests on the impersonality and objectivity of its procedures; the expertise model on the competence of the manager; the judicial review model on the right of recourse to the court system; and the market/pluralist model on incentives and free market processes. Frog maintained that all four types tried to defend bureaucracy by stressing its objective nature and by denying that it threatens subjective values. All these justifications failed, he wrote, because they could not separate subjective from objective.
CD&S selected parts of Frug's argument. Frug flayed both corporate and government bureaucracies. CD&S attacked only the government side, and they dropped two of Frug's models, the legal recourse model and the market/pluralist model. They seemed unaware that they defined bureaucracy simply as government organization and that their negative connotation could be disputed [Yarwood 1996].
CD&S were constrained, therefore, to search Commons's writings for passages that would permit them to use terms such as presentism, logocentric, inside/outside, dangerous supplement, and so forth. They were constrained further by philosophical assumptions that tend to reduce all ethical argument to a justification for domination, that remove the unique human actor from the center of any value system, and that treat all language as if it were poetry. They were predetermined, moreover, by their selective reading of Frug to conclude, before they started, that Commons had violated their ethical preference for the private sector.
The Rigging and the Religious-Social-Historical Context
As a result, they tried to explain Commons's writing in abstraction from who he was and from what he tried to do. Consequently, they failed to realize that he was not a typical progressive [Mayhew 1987, 987-991]. They did not understand that his religious background explains his sense of mission, but not his mature ideas, that the concerns he shared with Robert M. LaFollette are inconsistent with any fondness for bureaucracy, that the Wisconsin utility bill played a tiny unrepresentative role in the development of his regulatory discourse, and that his mature writings anticipated much of the postmodern critique. In short, attention to who Commons was, to what he tried to do, and to his intellectual development undermines most of the general statements CD&S made in their discussion of his background.
CD&S ignore two important points about Commons's religious background: its effect on his sense of duty and the waning of his allegiance to the social gospel.
Toward the end of a life that he viewed, in some ways, as tragedy, Commons interpreted the meaning of his childhood, and for that matter, of his life: "Liberty, equality, and defiance of the fugitive slave law were my inheritance, and Hoosierdom my education" [Commons 1934, 7]. Both the inheritance and the education reflect a childhood with an abolitionist Presbyterian mother and an anti-slavery Quaker father in a home that had harbored fugitive slaves. Educated in the American Puritan tradition at Oberlin College, Commons developed a sense of calling that drove him to work himself from one nervous breakdown to another [Gonce 1996, 647; Crunden 1982, 7; Kazin 1995, 6].(3) His "Hoosierdom" reflected itself not just in language, but also in a stubborn insistence on seeing things for himself. This personal approach to investigation distinguished his attempts to understand the laws he was raised to defy and to promote equality and liberty in a technical and changing society.
Hoosier skepticism made him uneasy in his early associations with Christian Socialists and led him to distance himself intellectually from the social gospel movement, particularly after an unsettling visit to a Christian Commune [Commons 1895; 1934, 51-2; Gonce 1996, 659]. In his own words, Commons turned to "Duty and Debt, instead of Liberty and Love" for the "foundations of institutional economics" [Commons 1934, 52]. By 1907, Commons's religion had become a private affair affecting his sense of commitment more than his ideas. Consequently, it is misleading to tie his mature thought, as CD&S seem to do, to the social gospel movement.
Commons's first books indicate the beginnings of his mature intellectual development. In The Distribution of Wealth, he revealed a concern for the plight of workers and the poor, even though he subsequently distanced himself from the analytical content of the book. In Proportional Representation, Commons argued for a system that would increase the representation of workers in the decision processes of the state, and in the Sociology of Sovereignty, he concluded that the single individual is helpless and that only organized groups can influence the decisions of the state. Early in his career, he endured repeated job losses in the academic world and the insecurity of temporary positions in the non-academic world - all of which taught him to keep his radical ideas to himself.
He came to Wisconsin from a position with the National Civic Federation, the brain child of Ralph Easely, a fervent believer in dispute resolution through negotiation. The federation encouraged cooperative investigation of public policy issues by leaders in labor, capital, and politics.(4) Commons's belief in the value of collective bargaining stems, to a large extent, from his experiences and conversations with Easely. His mistrust of intellectuals hardened as a result of observing them in labor disputes [Commons 1934, 87]. Commons worked mainly as a mediator in labor disputes, but he participated in the federation's investigation of the public utility problem.
This investigation resulted from a dispute in Philadelphia over public versus private ownership of municipal utilities [Commons 1934, 111-114]. But the problems of public utilities were more extensive and were national in scope [Hatter 1962, 9394]. Public utility rates were set not by free market forces, but by negotiations between the utility companies and city officials. In some cases, city politicians, being poor bargainers, gave away the store. In others, long-term contracts saddled utility companies with rates rendered impossibly low by changing conditions. The commission went beyond narrow questions of ownership and explored the whole range of issues surrounding the provision of public services at that time [National Civic Federation 1907, 1:13]. Commons, an employee of the federation, was entrusted with investigating the labor aspects of various alternatives (not the financial aspects, which were the responsibility of the accounting firm of Marwick Mitchell and Company) [National Civic Federation 1907, 1:15]. Commons himself doubted the advisability of public ownership without civil service reform [Commons 1934, 52]. The commission recommended private ownership of all utilities with the exception of those, such as sewerage and water supply, that were directly concerned with public health. Because city officials often lacked the skill and knowledge to negotiate with utility company lawyers and experts, the commission also recommended that "provision be made for a competent public authority with power to require of all public utilities a uniform system of records and accounts . . ." [National Civic Federation 1907, 1:24].
To understand where CD&S went astray, it is important to see that Commons merely implemented the commission's recommendations. It is important also to stress the biased picture CD&S drew of Robert M. LaFollette and the limited nature of Commons's association with him.
It is true that LaFollette believed in using the scientific method to find solutions to public problems. He also believed in participatory democracy. His first acts upon gaining control of the government in 1902 were to sponsor a direct primary bill, a railroad tax, an antilobby bill, and campaign finance reform [Nye 1959, 205-209]. In this respect, LaFollette's views were similar to those of Commons, and like Commons's views they were inconsistent with blind zealotry for bureaucracy. The two became friends, but it is hard to maintain that Commons simply followed LaFollette's lead. Commons came to Wisconsin in 1904, and LaFollette left in 1905 to take a seat in the Senate. And Commons focused his major efforts during those years not on drafting bills, but on the composition of the History of Labor in the United States [Commons et al. 1918-1935] and on the Principles of Labor Legislation [Commons and Andrews 1916]. In addition, he spent much of his time during 1906 and 1907 in Pittsburgh, working on the Pittsburgh Survey. Consequently, CD&S overstate the case when they present Commons as a major LaFollette ally, and, of course, they miss the significance of his personal focus on the history of labor and on the plight of the steelworkers, rather than on the public utility bill. Commons believed that his contribution to the utility bill was minimal:
I did not, of my own initiative, introduce anything new in drafting the bill. I got it all from others. I was a kind of sieve for funnelling ideas from everywhere into legislative enactment [Commons 1934, 120].
He developed a course on public utilities but grew bored with the subject and relinquished the course to others [Commons 1934, 128-129]. This bill therefore cannot serve as a source of Commons's "regulatory discourse" because much of it was not really his, and because he was not very interested in it.
If CD&S wanted to study what they call his "regulatory discourse," they should have focused on the Industrial Commission of Wisconsin. Had they read all of this text, they would have found Commons's interest in law, equality, and liberty still hesitant but worked out in concrete proposals. Commons combined occupational health, safety, and workers' compensation in a single agency. He called for experience-rated insurance, the responsibility not of the state, but of private mutual insurance companies, to shift the cost of accidents to employers, creating a market incentive for a safer work environment. Commons operationalized the legal concept of reasonableness in a way that reversed what Henry Carter Adams had called the competitive menace - the tendency for the least ethical producer to force others down to the same level [Adams 1954, 89-125; Commons 1913a, 445]. Previously, the courts had interpreted the term "reasonable" as average - to be measured by a band around the mean. Commons changed the definition from average to attainable under market conditions. He used the term practicable, and he defined practicable to mean the highest level of safety attained by an existing profitable firm [Commons 1934, 154-6]. Since some employers would do better than others, this reversed the competitive menace, making the most ethical employer the standard setter, rather than the least ethical. This definition also set up a learning process by which other firms could learn from the more successful and reduce their experience-rated insurance premiums.
Because they missed Commons's unique perspective on the law, CD&S missed the extent to which he anticipated postmodern critiques, making the accusation of logocentrism, as they define it, suspect. Though he eventually distanced himself from The Distribution of Wealth, Commons, even at this early stage, denied the possibility of any natural law determining inalienable rights to life or property [Commons 1963a, 59]. He also argued that civil laws represent not the views of society at large, but the purposes of the ruling class [Commons 1963a, 61].
In the Legal Foundations of Capitalism and in Institutional Economics, he further worked out the intellectual backdrop for the concept of reasonable value. He worked out a pragmatic definition of reasonableness, writing of a Supreme Court decision that "it is authoritative if not authentic, for what its majority says is reasonable is reasonable for the time being. What is wanted is not truth but orderly action" [Commons 1963b, 712]. In Institutional Economics, Commons turned to the philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce for whom the aim of intellectual activity was not firm knowledge, but belief-producing habits followed until the "irritation of doubt" induces an investigation. Peirce did not deny any meaning to the concepts of "the real" or "the truth." The meaning Peirce gave to these concepts dethroned the Cartesian single thinker and defined a social process of inquiry leading to provisional beliefs that may or may not be true, but that permit a definition of truth. "The opinion which is ultimately to be agreed to by all who investigate is what we mean by truth, and the object represented in this opinion is the real" [Commons 1963b, 152; Peirce 1992c, 139]. Commons never identified reasonableness at any particular time with some objective truth or justice.(5)
But Reason differs from Reasonableness. Man is not a rational being as the Eighteenth Century thought; he is a being of stupidity, passion, and ignorance, as Malthus thought. Hence Reasonable Value contains a large amount of stupidity, passion, and mistake [Commons 1963b, 682].
Sometimes, when an "irritation of doubt" arises about accepted practices, a collective investigation can render reasonable value less stupid. This was the basis of Commons's incrementalist approach to policy. Truth is the opinion "ultimately to be agreed to by all." Since the word 'all" includes future generations, any agreement reached at any time can be only provisional. But the definition holds out the possibility that investigations, if carefully conducted, can move in the direction of that ultimate truth and can make things better. The search for reasonable solutions is, then, a search for incremental improvements.
The problem, then, is the limited one of investigating the working rules of collective action which bring reluctant individuals up to, not an impracticable ideal, but a reasonable idealism, because it is already demonstrated, to be practicable by the progressive minority under existing conditions [Commons 1963, 874].
When he turned to property and liberty, Commons pointed out the circular reasoning involved when utility rates are based on property values, since property values are determined by the present value of expected utility rates [Commons 1974, 196]. It is a small step to point out that the values produced in the private sector all depend on laws enforced in the public sector, and so one might say today that Commons deconstructed the assumption of a private-public hierarchy that runs through the CD&S deconstruction. One might also say that, generalizing from a decision of Justice Louis Brandeis, Commons deconstructed the notion of pure competition as a purely natural process.
Competition is not Nature's "struggle for existence" but is an artificial arrangement supported by the moral, economic, and physical sanctions of collective action. The theory of free competition developed by economists is not a natural tendency towards an equilibrium of forces but is an ideal of public purpose adopted by the courts, to be attained by restraints upon the natural struggle for existence. The economic terminology is "raising the level of competition by reasonable restraints of trade" [Commons 1963b, 713].
It is possible now to consider the general statements made by CD&S in the section of their article labeled "The Religious and Social-Historical Context of Commons."
They write that "Commons contrasted the rampage of public passions (often termed interests/self-interests) against the rule of law and reason" [1997, 6]. This does not fit the person raised in defiance of the Fugitive Slave Law who also held that laws represent the interests of the ruling class. They write that "Commons contrasted competition (natural, 'impersonal' processes) and monopoly (unnatural, 'personal' processes)" [1997, 6]. This does not fit the person who tried to reverse the competitive menace and who argued that economic competition is a creature of the law. Their section on the social gospel does not jibe well with Commons's decision in 1895 to separate himself from that movement and to substitute duty for love. Their long discussion of LaFollette ignores the relatively short tune that Commons worked with him, the other concerns that occupied Commons simultaneously, and the influence of many other figures on Commons's search for reasonableness.
Their treatment sidesteps Commons's core principles: a strong belief in participatory democracy and in collective bargaining as major ways to deal with conflicts of interest. They miss his conception of reasonableness based on social inquiry and consistent with the philosophy of C.S. Peirce. Commons was not anxious to increase the role of the state so much as to increase the role of collective action outside the state. Such beliefs are inconsistent with a hard-nosed advocate of bureaucracy, but they are consistent with statements like this:
Even in democratic America I see how quickly a private citizen, when elected or appointed to public office, becomes a bureaucrat. He thinks, as somebody said of Noah, that because he knows a thing or two he knows it all. He is the germ of dictatorship, unwilling to yield his authority in the slow process of negotiating with conflicting interests and letting them get the credit of bringing about a reasonable understanding among themselves [Commons 1934, 124].
In missing all this, CD&S illustrated the problems created by deconstruction's decentering of the individual. When they discussed "Commons's formalist Voice," they illustrated a further problem.
The Formalist Voice and the Rigging
By the formalist voice, CD&S seem to mean that Commons argued that bureaucracies are good because their decisions are objective. They claim that "in Commons's opinion, the best method [for setting utility rates] would be to tie the rates to a reasonable return on the value of invested capital" [1997, 10-11]. Because this was too objective, they argue, he proposed discussion among reasonable people as a "subjective supplement." Finally, they cite some critical comments about the LaFollette years to shore up their arguments. In doing so, they illustrate a problem with deconstruction - the problem John Ellis [1989, 122] described as the need to warp texts around to create a pair of hierarchically arranged polar opposites. CD&S needed to show that Commons was forced to one extreme, advocating an impersonal, machine-like bureaucracy and assuming as the "dangerous supplement" its opposite. They scoured his writings for what they previously decided was there, and they seemed to find it, but, in fact, they illustrated the "rigged-in-advance" nature of deconstruction because every part of their argument can be challenged - often by using the very texts they cite. Commons did not recommend rate fixing based on rate-of-return on physical valuation; reasonable value and collective inquiry were, for Commons, not subjective in the modern sense - and the negative citations did not apply to him.
Both in the article cited by CD&S and in the Legal Foundations of Capitalism Commons, following the recommendation of the National Civic Federation, recommended that utility rates be based not on rate-of-return to physical capital, but on a sliding scale that is not substantially different from the incentive prices recently suggested by authors such as Paul Joskow [1997, 135].
The Wisconsin law . . . provides for the "sliding scale," profit-sharing, or other devices that may increase the profits on condition of reducing the prices. The commission is authorized to investigate and sanction such devices if reasonable. Herein the law is elastic enough to offer opportunity for ingenuity and experiments that may combine the principle of State regulation with that of private initiative [Commons 1907, 223].
In the Legal Foundations of Capitalism, Commons again recommended a sliding scale and referred the reader to the report of National Civic Federation [Commons 1974, 213].
Why, then, did he recommend that the commission begin its rate setting with the valuation of physical property? I have reproduced below the quotation used by CD&S [1997, 10], but I have restored and italicized a large section that they cut out.
A significant feature of the Wisconsin legislation is its disregard for stocks and bonds and its reliance on the physical valuation of property as the first step in regulation. . . . This does not mean that the commission shall disregard other elements of valuation, - in fact, it is required by the law to take all elements into account . . . But physical valuation is necessary in order that the public and the courts may know exactly how much is allowed for the other elements. The commission is required to value all of the properties in the State and to publish both the actual value ascertained when all elements are taken into account and the physical value ascertained by its engineers . . . Accompanied by etc. [Commons 1907, 222; emphasis added].
The rationale for physical valuation, therefore, was not primarily to form an objective base for rate setting, but to publicize the reasoning of the commission and the evidence on which it was based. Commons hoped that publicity would control the tendency for the corporations to capture the commission.(6)
Nearly every State commission created in other States to regulate corporations has sooner or later fallen under the control of the corporations supposed to be regulated. The reason appears to lie mainly in the fact that essential elements of publicity have not been required. The commissions have been able to hide behind closed doors [Commons 1907, 222].
It is not correct, therefore, to claim that Commons wanted to start with physical valuation in order to have an objective criterion. He wanted to start with physical valuation as a means of increasing citizen control.
CD&S make a heroic attempt to understand reasonable value in the context of rate regulation. To support their objective/subjective contention, they dug up a place in Commons's autobiography where he actually used the words.
Often my students and sometimes my economist critics said that "reasonable" was something purely subjective, and there were as many meanings of reasonableness as there were individuals. Such a term placed the determination of reasonableness in the arbitrary mind of whatever individual happened to be in authority. But I considered the objection to be an inheritance from the subjective individualism of preceding economic theorists. A collective theory of value derived from existing best practices, from custom, the common law, the decision of the courts, could make reasonableness "objective" and therefore capable of investigation and testimony leading to the formation of working rules for collective action in control of individual action. I had in mind all along, the accident prevention work of the United States Steel Corporation, but extended to all other best practices of other pioneer employers [Commons 1934, 156].
Closer examination, however, reveals that in this passage Commons was defining his terms carefully. He rejected subjective individualism and phrased his argument not in terms of objective truth, but of best practices, defining objective as capable of investigation and testimony leading to new working rules deemed better than old working rules.
Finally, CD&S cite some critical evaluations of the LaFollette era. One citation from R.S. Maxwell comes from a chapter titled "The Balance Sheet." They cite only the negative side of Maxwell's assessment. More to the point, Commons had nothing to do with the establishment of the Railroad Commission, and he acted only as a conduit for the public utility law. The Industrial Commission bore his stamp more completely than the others, and here is Maxwell's verdict on the Industrial Commission.
The Industrial Commission of Wisconsin, the first comprehensive administrative board in the labor field, regarded itself as a social agency charged with the duty of insuring a fair deal to labor. In the fields of workmen's compensation, safety inspection, women and children in industry, employment offices, and industrial education the commission set a standard of administrative excellence that other states sought to emulate. Somewhat less effective have been its efforts to settle strikes and lockouts. . . . It also appears that in setting up a schedule of fixed payments for industrial injuries, the commission inadvertently acted against the interest of workers who might have had an excellent case under common law. Nevertheless the overall condition of labor in Wisconsin under the Industrial Commission compared favorably with that in other parts of the country. In taking steps in 1911 to intervene in the terms and conditions of industrial employment, the progressives placed Wisconsin among the leaders in the field of labor legislation [Maxwell 1956, 198-199].
CD&S, therefore, in their section on "Commons's Formalist Voice," presented a case study of the problems created by the effort to force complex arguments into the procrustean bed of deconstruction's polar opposites. They oversimplified what Commons wrote on rate regulation, missed the thrust of his argument on reasonable value, and concluded with a batch of one-sided quotations. They showed not that Commons advocated bureaucracy on grounds of objectivity, but that the language and techniques of deconstruction can hinder the reading of a text.
The Rigging and the Expertise Voice
In their discussion of what they call "Commons's expertise voice," CD&S illustrate the problems arising from what Jurgen Habermas [1987, 199-210] called the "leveling of discourse." Deconstructionists do not distinguish among poetic, scientific, or problem-solving language. Because of this, as Anthony Giddens [1987, 94] pointed out, deconstruction cannot account for scientific achievements. It follows that deconstruction cannot cope with the social problems resulting from scientific achievements. This explains why CD&S reason from the creation of commissions to the patently false assertion that Commons "persistently" espoused the contributions of non-partisan commissions of experts and intellectuals" [Covaleski, Dirsmith, and Samuel 1997, 16].(7) As a matter of fact, Commons did not trust intellectuals and tried to curtail the power of experts. Limited as they were by deconstructive dogma, CD&S could not understand that Commons advocated not an expansion of commissions, but a more responsive government structure. He advocated this structure not to increase the power of some bureaucrat, but to limit the power of expertise in a technically complex world and to cope with the constant changes created by such a world.
CD&S introduce this section with quotations from two different articles, only one of which was concerned with public utilities.(8) The second quotation comes from an article dealing with occupational health. Commons began that article by stating that the function of the commission was not execution, but investigation. A technically changing society, he argued, posed problems for the proper functioning of a tripartite government in which, according to the Constitution, the executive and legislative branches are checked by the Supreme Court, which, in turn, is checked by the doctrine of reasonableness. "By this doctrine the court applies its philosophy to the particular facts, but requires that all of the facts be taken into account. . . . "In addition, development of reasonable standards requires "that all parties affected shall have an opportunity to be heard . . ." [Commons 1913a, 441]. From other writings, it is clear that Commons believed a technically complex society gave people with technical information undue power over every branch of government, subverting the purpose of the Constitution.
In the legislative branch, knowledgeable lobbyists controlled the representatives:
Few, if any, of the members can cope with him [the lobbyist] in technical and detailed knowledge of the subjects on which he presses his views. Even the member who introduces and champions a measure is often less informed upon it than the lobbyist who backs it or fights it. Hence the great power of the lobby [Commons 1905b, 722].
Railroad experts could dictate their own rules to members of the executive branch.
The theory of the new law seems to be that the railroads have their experts with years of experience in making rates and handling traffic; but that no body of men, however expert, can be trusted at all times to use their uncontrolled power, upon which the wealth of the State depends in a manner fair and reasonable [Commons 1905a, 78].
The power of the experts rendered municipalities helpless when they tried to challenge abuses of corporate power in court:
because in nearly all cases the municipalities are poorly represented before the commission, and their attorneys and experts are no match for those of the private companies [Commons 1910, 215].
The general solution to the power of knowledge was to redistribute the knowledge. For this purpose, Commons's friend, the political scientist Charles McCarthy, created a legislative reference service so legislators could educate themselves about the bills [Commons 1905b]. The same purpose, in Commons's view, should guide the establishment and the structure of commissions. Of course, even within commissions, expert power needed control.
Commons explained how he tried to control the power of technical experts in the industrial commission. The citation used by Covaleski and associates comes one page after the following passage.
. . . after interviewing a number of these experts, it was discovered that they considered the problem to be that of drawing up ideal or standard specifications, which the commission should then go out with a "big stick" and compel employers to adopt.
For two reasons, this was decided to be impossible. A monarchical country like Germany with its executive independent of political changes, might call in experts and be governed by them, but a democratic country would not consent to be ruled by those whose ideal standards might be removed from the every-day conditions of business. This decision of the commission also conforms to the doctrine of reasonableness which requires practicability adapted to existing conditions [Commons 1913a, 443].
For this reason, Commons wanted permanent staff members to be not technical experts, but "shop men" able to tell whether the experts were practical or not. Scientists, engineers, and physicians were to be called in as outside experts in the course of the investigation, but they were not to be permanent staff members [Commons 1913a, 444]. As a further check on the power of experts, Commons's bill required an advisory board composed of representatives of all affected groups [Commons 1913a, 447-448]. Consequently, far from giving power to a group of experts, Commons tried to devise a system that limited their power and permitted maximum participation of all affected parties.
Changing technology implies new health hazards demanding new responses. In the American system, the legislature is the discretionary branch of government, but the legislature is designed to respond slowly. Laws lag problems, and the executive branch is limited in its discretion. The commission, however, was designed to permit faster responses.
Hitherto, when it was discovered that the buzz saw or the set screw had been omitted from the law, it was necessary to get together the Federation of Labor, the Women's Trade Union League, and all the friends of labor, to organize them into a lobby and go down to the legislature to get the words "buzz saw" and "set screw" inserted into the law. Now it is only necessary for the industrial commission to show these things are dangerous and protection practicable [Commons 1913b, 392].
Employers could still appeal to the courts if they disgreed with the commission's findings, but they could present as evidence only what they had previously presented to the commission. This, and the safeguard of the advisory board, was designed to assure as far as possible that the commission itself would produce reasonable rulings.
Commons therefore did not say, as CD&S imply, that commissions are good because experts are objective. Commons did not think anyone was objective [Commons 1950, 200-202]. The checks and balances he imposed on the Industrial Commission of Wisconsin illustrate his conviction that bias pervades human nature. It is possible to challenge much of Commons's reasoning, but CD&S did not do that. They started with a long quotation and then cited literature on deconstruction and statements critical of LaFollette's term as governor. They could not challenge Commons's reasoning within the confines of deconstruction for two reasons. First, the leveled discourse of deconstruction cannot cope with scientific progress or with problem-solving language. Second, Commons's notion of reasonableness differs from the rationality of modernity, the target of postmodern critics.(9) This, of course, raises questions about deconstruction from an institutionalist perspective.
Deconstruction from an Institutionalist Perspective
Institutionalists should find some aspects of Derrida's life and writing attractive. Like Thorstein Veblen, Derrida looks at Western capitalist culture from an outsider's perspective - hat of Algerian Sephardic Judaism. Like Veblen, Derrida punctures pretensions, especially pretensions about the civilizing influence of Eurocentrio values. Like Veblen and Commons, Derrida clashed with academic establishments, and like Commons he is uniquely original. Like a poetic anti-Socrates, he raises hard, irritating, and insightful questions that demand attention, and his approach to textual interpretation can be helpful.
For example, Commons treated legal reasoning in much the same fashion that Derrida treated a text. The only bases Commons found for standards of justice in particular instances were texts recording the resolution of similar disputes in the past. Each of these legal texts bore traces of past legal opinions. In this respect, reasonable value resembles a palimpsest in which traces of ancient writing are just visible below the traces of newer writing.(10) Practically all of Derrida's writing operates in the same fashion, treating the text as something to be preserved but also as something that bears traces of former writing.
On the other hand, institutionalists have a number of reasons for questioning the type of deconstruction illustrated by CD&S. First, students of the history of economic thought must recognize in Anglo-American deconstruction the same intolerance that characterized the logical positivists. Buzz words are used to discredit dissenting opinions. Second, deconstruction is not universally accepted by either philosophers or literary critics. Quite the contrary, deconstruction has provoked a storm of criticism [Searle 1977; Eagleton 1981; Ellis 1989; Giddens 1987, 73-108; Graff 1980; Habermas 1987, 161-210; Scruton 1994]. It seems unwise to jump on a philosophical bandwagon when so many philosophers are jumping off.
In addition, institutionalists can base two more objections on the writings of C.S. Peirce. First, Peirce argued that Cartesian doubt is self-deception and that people who start with it always reason themselves to what they held in the first place. This could apply to deconstruction's habit of questioning everything in a text [Peirce 1992b, 28-29]. Second, Peirce had a rule for finding the meaning of a conception.
Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical beatings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of the conception of the object [Peirce 1992c, 128].
There are two ways to apply this principle - the first finds a frivolous meaning, and the second, a dangerous meaning. Frivolity arises from the inability of deconstruction, by itself, to generate solutions to problems. This was somewhat obvious toward the end of their article when CD&S picked ideas out of the neoclassical hat. It was more obvious in Frug's article, which contained no policy proposals and an attack on those who asked for them.
Like workers in a formalist bureaucracy, modest realists only value instrumental programmatic thinking; they want to discuss not your vision of the world (or your critique of theirs) but only your plan of action, the next concrete step you propose [Frug 1984, 1384].
In its inability to justify policy proposals, therefore, deconstruction is subject to Peirce's condemnation of dilletantism.
The action of thinking may incidentally have other results; it may serve to amuse us, for example and among dilettanti it is not rare to find those who have so perverted thought to the purposes of pleasure that it seems to vex them to think that the questions upon which they delight to exercise it may ever get settled; and a positive discovery which takes a favorite subject out of the arena of literary debate is met with ill-concealed dislike. This disposition is the very debauchery of thought [Peirce 1992c, 129].
The dangerous meaning arises from deconstruction's roots in Nietzsche and Heidegger and from their relation to Nazism. Derrida ably defended both his friend Paul de Man and deconstruction against charges of Nazism [1988b]. And Nietzsche can be defended [Fuller 1955, 452-3; Strong 1996]. It is harder to defend Heidegger. Heidegger's embrace of National Socialism, moreover, seems related to what Richard Wolin called Heidegger's appropriation of Nietzsche's ethics of "radical will" or heroic self-assertion, the "absolute decision based on nothingness that dissolves the notion of legitimacy" [Wolin 1990, 30]. And, in a policy discipline such as economics, the relevant questions deal not with what Nietzsche meant, but with the life his ideas have taken on in the world of action. Nietzsche's reduction of all human motivation to the desire for power and Heidegger's devaluing of human nature in favor of individual being could well ground some future deconstructionist hailing the birth of a new Overman.(11)
CD&S, after a promising start, were trapped by deconstruction's rigging into depicting John R. Commons, who mistrusted bureaucracy, as an advocate of bureaucracy. Indeed, his major contributions lay in the notions of collective bargaining and reasonable value. 12 They missed the extent to which Commons anticipated the postmodern critique, and in so doing, they illustrated all the biases caused by decentering the human subject, assuming two and only two poles in a hierarchy, denying the distinction between different kinds of discourse, and reducing all human motives to lust for power. To question the value of deconstruction is not to deny Derrida a place among world-class philosophers. It is to question the value of a technique so loaded with preconceptions that it "rigs in advance" textual interpretations that say more about deconstruction than about the text that is being deconstructed.
1. Derrida is criticized for coining terms that remain undefined or vaguely defined. Here is his definition of logocentrism:
the metaphysics of phonetic writing (for example the alphabet) which has fundamentally - for enigmatic yet essential reasons that are inaccessible to a simple historical relativism - nothing but the most original and powerful ethnocentrism, in the process of imposing itself upon the world, controlling in one and the same order [Derrida 1976, 3]. Further down on the same page, however, one realizes that he is probably reacting to Martin Heidegger's [1992, 1, 22] use of [Greek Text Omitted] (the definitive word) as a statement made to communicate or made to oneself. More broadly, though, he refers to an entire philosophical tradition that gives primacy to the spoken word. For a disagreement with Derrida's thesis on logocentrism, see Scruton [1994, 494].
The Greek word pharmakon is commonly translated as drug or remedy. In his discussion of Plato's Phaedrus, however, Derrida [1981, 95-180] insists on the many meanings of the word. It could also mean poison or scapegoat.
2. Terry Eagleton  has written a very readable introduction that locates deconstruction within the history of literary criticism. Habermas  has written a far less readable treatise that locates it within the history of philosophy.
3. Richard Gonce's article is an excellent source of information on the relation between Commons and the social gospel movement . He notes that Common's association with the social gospel movement began to fade away in 1895, but, oddly, given the impressive thoroughness of his treatment, he does not mention the Amana episode. Crunden points out that frequent nervous breakdowns were common among prominent Progressives. Two other examples are Woodrow Wilson and Charles Evans Hughes. Crunden hypothesizes that they collapsed when they were unable to meet "the psychological demands" inculcated by "strict parental supervision" [1982, 7].
4. For background on the National Civic Federation and Ralph Easely, see Green . Richard T. Ely did not send Commons out as a social worker when he arrived at Wisconsin. He did send him out years earlier when Commons was a graduate student at Johns Hopkins. But the relation between the two men was quite different at Wisconsin.
5. For a brief treatment of how Peirce affected Commons, see Mirowski [1987, 1025-1027]. Malcolm Rutherford  summarizes Peirce's philosophy nicely and criticizes the use made of his philosophy by modern institutionalists.
6. The desire for publicity makes more sense in light of a case in 1906 in which the Wisconsin Supreme Court threw out a suit by the city of Madison against the Madison Gas and Electric Company. In that case, the court allowed the company to keep secret its financial records. There was considerable outrage in Wisconsin over this decision [Hatter 1962, 93941.
7. CD&S fail to see the problem created by reducing all calls for expertise to a mask for the will to power. Suppose, for example, that Mark Covaleski, Mark Dirsmith, and Samuel Sajay are all passengers on an Air France Concorde. There are two other passengers, Jacques Derrida and an off-duty Concorde pilot returning home. Assume that the off-duty pilot has been recognized as highly competent. Now, assume that the pilot and the co-pilot on duty both die. According to their expertise model, CD&S would trust Derrida to fly the plane home because he would not be corrupted by the expertise bias of the pilot.
8. The source on the first half of their quotation is wrong. The closest I can come is Commons [1910, 215].
9. In some ways, Commons could be called pre-modern in the sense used by Steven Toulmin [1990, 198-201]. Commons did not impose standards of rationality on honestly held beliefs, and he did not reject "the ethical principles of mediation, conciliation, or religion that for 6,000 years have more or less brought together opposing self-interests of mankind in the attempted practical measures of harmony and cooperation" [Commons 1950, 287]. On the other hand, his wrestling with the question of reasonableness brought him beyond the subjectivism of the modern period.
10. A palimpsest is a parchment that has been written on more than once, with old writings previously erased so that traces of former writing are visible beneath the most recent writing. Derrida used the term to refer to Jean-Jacques Rousseau's description of the attraction between the sexes. Derrida adds: "Under this bloody picture one must read, as in a palimpsest, the other scene: that which a moment ago and in the same colors, exhibited a world of dead horses, ferocious animals, and children torn from the mother's breast" [Derrida 1976, 175].
11. Stout defenders of deconstruction claim that it is well adapted to defend minorities, the oppressed, and people at the margins - a weapon in the battles of the enlightened against racism, sexism, and so forth [Kilduff and Mehra 1997, 479-480]. The great champions of human rights were not, however, deconstructionists, so one can ask whether deconstruction can add anything to what was already there. Moreover, since deconstruction can be applied to any text, it is, at best, a hired intellectual gun. It could be used to confuse and devalue the rhetoric of Martin Luther King or any other civil rights leader. Even where unmasking would be useful, the idea of a socially constructed reality dates at least from the writings of Gramsci. Kilduff and Mehra do an excellent job, but it is hard to defend deconstruction as practiced in Anglo-American academic circles.
12. Selig Perlman summarized Commons's attitude nicely: "Commons accorded a supreme attentiveness to the institutions contrived by workingmen without the aid of mentors. . . . And as a student of such movements he knew how incompatible such creativeness from below was with external domination by employers, messianic intellectuals, or government" [1950, 3].
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J. Dennis Chasse is Professor of Economics, SUNY College at Brockport. He is grateful to James Cordeiro and Susan Stites-Doe for encouragement, for guidance to the literature, and for many enlightening discussions.…