Social Economics: Premises, Findings and Policies

By Edward J.O'Boyle | Go to book overview

EDITOR'S PREFACE

For some students of economic affairs, social economics is seen in the context of the entire discipline of economics as a subspecialty area such as public finance or industrial organization or labor economics. Others regard social economics as a kind of finish or polish that is applied across the entire discipline. Some regard it as quaint but harmless while others reject it altogether and deny it any standing within the discipline.

The first view is narrow in scope and suggests that social economists are specialists. The second is broad in scope and implies that social economists are generalists. The third is uninformed or dogmatic or both and intimates more about those economists who uphold it than those who are branded by it. All three viewpoints are misrepresentations.

Social economics is a way of thinking about economic affairs which begins at the very foundations of the discipline, at its philosophical base, where discourse among mainstream economists rarely occurs and where too often there is little explicit awareness of the significance of holding fast to different philosophical premises. One such premise is that every economic agent is strictly an individual being. Another is that self-interest alone drives economic behavior. A third is that the common good is served through the invisible hand.

All three of these premises, along with others, are challenged by social economists who, in contrast with mainstream economists, recognize that such premises are critically important because premises determine the way in which they understand and represent the functioning of the economy and therefore the way in which they address and attempt to repair an economy that is dysfunctioning. Further, years of careful inquiry have led social economists to reject much of the conventional thinking about how an economy based on those premises actually operates. As more substantial premises are presented as replacements for the less substantial ones from mainstream economics, a different and more discerning body of thought emerges about how the economy truly functions.

This different way of thinking about economic affairs is what is meant by social economics and the distinctive understanding as to how the economy

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