A Solidarist Social Economy: The Bruyn Perspective

By Waters, William R. | Review of Social Economy, Spring 1994 | Go to article overview

A Solidarist Social Economy: The Bruyn Perspective


Waters, William R., Review of Social Economy


The name, social economics, refers either to economics with a strong ethical dimension, or to one that is broader than the economics prevailing in American academic curricula and policy making. In either case, it is an alternative to the mainstream and, as such, is critical of the status quo.(2) Practitioners of the first kind accept ethics either as endogenous to the science -- as in Keynes' belief that economics is a moral science(3) -- or exogenous, in that ethics is separate from the mainstream but complementary to it in policy issues, as in the work of the Jesuit economist Thomas Divine, founder of the Association of Social Economics.(4) In either case, economics with an ethical dimension has interested members of the Association of Social Economics since its beginnings in the 1940s and is the glue that binds in membership such diverse social economists as American Institutionalists, Catholics, Marxists, deontologicalists and environmentalists.

But, social economics as a broader kind of economics than that generally accepted, albeit without a strong ethical requirement, has by no means been neglected. It defines social economics in this paper. Social economists of this persuasion do not agree to the generally accepted limitations imposed on the science by the given ends, efficient scarce means, boundary delineation of Carl Menger of the 1870s and of Lionel Robbins of the 1930s. According to Lowe writing in 1935, "Something of the strictness of a natural law," comes out of this relationship of "disposing of scarce means for given ends" (Lowe, p. 42). Also, "Free exchange secures satisfaction by the domination of the economic man and of perfect competition in every sphere of social life, from the breeding of human beings through saving of material means up to buying and selling commodities and services" (Lowe, p. 70). Social economists, on the other hand, contend that one cannot explain the economic sector of society in so restricted a way; a study of "rational" economic behavior is not enough. Economics includes also, as an integral part of the discipline, excursions into the nature and history of social and political values, institutions, organizations and motivations. This broad perspective entails a working arrangement of economic theory with sociology and history, not unlike what presently exists in conventional economics between economic analysis and statistics.

Academic economists who determine the curriculum of PhD programs and write the popular text books resist collaboration with sociology; moreover, connection with history is looked at as a subdiscipline of economics. But, persuasive arguments for change surface periodically, and there are such moves presently, for example, one under the leadership of the Swedish sociologist, Richard Swedberg. In one of his books (1990), he reports discussions of economists and sociologists who were invited to discuss disciplinary connections and mutual problems. Swedberg interviewed seventeen well known economists and sociologists to encourage greater interaction and communication between the two kinds of scientists. In another book, a biography of Joseph Schumpeter, he presented Schumpeter as a champion of this kind of broader economics, and in a third, compiled some of Schumpeter's economic sociological essays, including articles on fiscal sociology (for example, the tax state), theories of imperialism and social classes, and articles on American institutions responsible for development and decline (1991a). In the first volume, Swedberg showed the soundness of economists and sociologists cooperating, in the other two he put Schumpeter forth as a model for the way a practicing economist can use sociology. Schumpeter worked out solutions to economic problems with a division of labor in the social sciences very different from the conventional economics we have today. He accepted Max Weber's conception of the nature of economics.

When Schumpeter was young he was heavily influenced by Max Weber's attempt to create a new and broad type of transdisciplinary economics, called sozialokonomik or "social economics. …

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