The Economic Surplus, Disembedded Economy, and Nurturance Gap - the Contribution of James Ronald Stanfield to Political Economy

By O'Hara, Phillip Anthony | Journal of Economic Issues, June 2006 | Go to article overview

The Economic Surplus, Disembedded Economy, and Nurturance Gap - the Contribution of James Ronald Stanfield to Political Economy


O'Hara, Phillip Anthony, Journal of Economic Issues


James Ronald Stanfield was born into a poor working class family on November 22, 1945. He was brought up in Handley, Texas, a semi-rural area at the time, went to Eastern Hills High School (in Fort Worth), and at his mother's insistence attended a Methodist church, until the age of thirteen. His parents were of Scotch-Irish and German ancestry and worked as short order cafe cooks, competing with the emerging take away fast food joints. In his late teens he took to economics as a way of getting out of the culture of poverty, expecting to become an "efficiency expert" or what is now called a management consultant. With this in mind he took a B.A. (1968) with a major in economics and an M.A. in Economics (1969) at the University of Texas at Arlington.

By this time he was drawn into the protests against the Vietnam War and lost his interest in being an efficiency expert, being more concerned with the excesses of the corporate state, the wasteful use of public spending, and the need for more reasonable foreign and domestic policies. Ron, as his friends and colleagues call him, was then drawn back to economics from a brief stint in English by the promise that the study of economic imperialism would reveal the hidden reality behind U.S. foreign policy. That promise was problematic, but Ron was attracted by the new groupings of institutionalists and neo-Marxists who started to organize conferences and journals in the USA in the mid to late 1960s. Following this radicalization he did an empirical Ph.D. thesis on the economic surplus at the University of Oklamoma-Norman (1972).

His world of ideas was stimulated by greats such as Thorstein Veblen, Karl Polanyi, Erich Fromm, John Kenneth Galbraith, Paul Baran, Paul Sweezy, Herbert Marcuse, Clarence Ayres, Robert Theobald, and Thomas Kuhn. Veblen and Galbraith wrote with insight and honor about the sociocultural ramifications of the new industrial state; Baran and Sweezy on the cultural contradictions of monopoly capital; and Fromm and Marcuse on surplus repression and misdirected Freudian sublimation of the atrophied social relations of production. Ayres, Polanyi, and Theobald emphasized the need to imagine more desirable alternative futures, while Kuhn called attention to revolutions and paradigms in science. These fresh ideas gave young Ron an apprenticeship for understanding institutional adjustment through cultural change.

Stanfield's Contributions to Institution Building

Ron Stanfield has since contributed much to an understanding of institutional change through cultural change. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that he played a leading role in the institutions themselves. He had in the late 1960s joined the Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE) and Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), while publishing in the Review of Radical Political Economics in the mid 1970s, to illustrate his commitment to radical change. Then he became an active member of the Association for Evolutionary Economics (AFEE) and for more than three decades has been advancing the cause of institutional economics. For instance, he has published twenty-one articles in AFEE's Journal of Economic Issues (JEI) on subjects ranging from Kuhnian revolutions to linkages between institutionalism and Marxism, the current crises of capitalism, the institutional economics of Polanyi, Galbraith, and Ayres, monopoly capital, the role of the state, and the nature of nurturance and love. He also served on the editorial board of the JEI (1978-1981) as well as being a member of the board of directors of AFEE (1981). In 1998 he became the president of AFEE and delivered a paper on "The Scope, Method, and Significance of Original Institutional Economics" (1999) in that capacity. In January 2006 in Boston he received the greatest accolade possible in political economy, the Veblen-Commons Award, for his outstanding contributions to institutional economics.

In the late 1970s, the Association for Institutionalist Thought (AFIT) was formed with a view to going back to the roots of institutional economics through the work of Veblen, Wesley Mitchell, John Commons, and Ayres. …

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