Endangered Democratic Institutions and Instrumental Inquiry: Remarks upon Receiving the Veblen-Commons Award

By Hayden, F. Gregory | Journal of Economic Issues, June 2003 | Go to article overview
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Endangered Democratic Institutions and Instrumental Inquiry: Remarks upon Receiving the Veblen-Commons Award

Hayden, F. Gregory, Journal of Economic Issues

I want to thank the Association for this honor. I am exceedingly grateful for the award. In addition, I am exceedingly grateful for the Association for Evolutionary Economics. The Association, the Journal of Economic Issues, and the outstanding people in the Association have been very instrumental in my scholarly development.

I want to thank my wife, Theresa. She has always made a major contribution to my research and public policy activities. In addition, she has nourished my intellect and stimulated my interest through a lifetime of commentary on all subjects.

I could not begin to recognize all the institutions to which I am indebted. But I do want to recognize the land grant universities with the excellent professors and students from whom I have acquired so much. As an undergraduate I had economics professors like Robert Brazeltson, Robert Darcy, Paul Barkley, and Walter Bagley. And there could not have been a more excellent group of professors or a group more devoted to their students than were mine in graduate school-Walter Neale, Daniel Morgan, Carey Thompson, Clarence Ayres, Douglas Dacy, Stephen McDonald, F. Ray Marshall, Wendell Gordon, Forest Hill, H. H. Liebhafsky. Think about that list! How fortunate this student was! After graduate school, I joined a university where I have had great colleagues in numerous disciplines as well as in economics. The department has included institutional colleagues like Wallace Peterson, Jerry Petr, Bert Evans, James Swaney, and Ann Mari May. They have contributed immensely to my development. The excellent students at the University of Nebraska are a group from whom I have learned much and from whom I continue to learn. I have indeed been a very fortunate person.

Let me begin my comments by recounting a bit of history.

In the 1890s, British cattle companies drove large herds into the sparsely settled grasslands of Nebraska like an invading army. Immediately, the drovers started killing homesteaders, who were always shot on the homesteader's land at the plow or mower to clarify that it was the homesteading that was the capital offense. The cattle companies fenced public lands and paid others to file claims on their behalf, all in clear violation of the law but protected because they controlled the courts, bought political influence, and continued to intimidate. Many homesteaders refused to be intimidated. They contested the phony homesteads and testified against the companies, and some were killed because of their legal activity. The homesteaders prevailed because in 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt ordered the arrest of a leading cattle company boss for fencing public lands. The boss was let off with a small fine, after which he was treated to a champagne dinner provided by the federal marshal in Omaha, Nebraska. Roosevel t fired the marshal and replaced him with a man who enforced the law. The cattle companies were removed from the land, and individual settlers built the ranches (Charles H. Hassebrook, Center for Rural Affairs Newsletter, September 2002).

I tell of this situation for two reasons. The first is to note the difference between the reaction against the corporations then and now. Large companies were not symbols of high status and authority to which citizens automatically deferred with a fundamental asymmetry of authority. Second, the bit of history clarifies that a major determinant of the economy is politics. My discussion today deals with issues of one kind of political system, that of democracy. Instrumentalists have a special concern for democracy. The instrumental approach developed as a result of the integration of democratic policy making and science, an integration compelled by democracy. For instrumentalism to continue to develop and to continue to successfully assist in policy making, democracy needs to be a viable institution for guiding social inquiry.

As Louis Menand wrote in his book, The Metaphysical Club, we are now experiencing a resurgence of the instrumental approach in the scientific world (2001).

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Endangered Democratic Institutions and Instrumental Inquiry: Remarks upon Receiving the Veblen-Commons Award


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