Allen Oakley's Contribution to History of Political Economy: Capitalism, Agency-Structure and Realism

By O'Hara, Phillip Anthony | History of Economics Review, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Allen Oakley's Contribution to History of Political Economy: Capitalism, Agency-Structure and Realism


O'Hara, Phillip Anthony, History of Economics Review


Abstract: Allen Oakley has been a consistent and innovative contributor to the history of political economy for thirty years. His contributions span a wide spectrum, from the classical economics of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill, through to the dynamics of capitalism associated with the work of Karl Marx and Joseph Schumpeter, and more latterly the Austrian school and beyond. His work on Marx links to the evolution and conceptual development of his political economy of capitalism, while for Schumpeter he took a critically sympathetic view of his theory of development and cycles. He also worked on issues of methodology, including Adolf Lowe's structural and instrumental analysis, and Karl Popper's situational perspective. More recently, he has scrutinised the contradictions of Austrian thought associated with subjectivism versus market order. He sought to resolve the question of agency-structure through reconstructing political economy along the lines of a critically realistic view of hermeneutic cross-causation between individuals and society.

1 Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to analyse the contribution of Allen Oakley to the history of political economy. Specifically, three things stand out. First, Oakley contributed to an understanding of the inner dynamics of capitalism. Using the work of Karl Marx and Joseph Schumpeter, he developed a critical appreciation of the evolution of their political economies of capitalism.

Second, Oakley advanced an understanding of the relationship between structure and agency. How can individuals engage in action while systemic forces influence their decisions, both limiting and assisting their objectives? Special reference in this regard is given to the Austrian School of political economy, with Oakley endeavouring both to appreciate and critically assess--as well as to improve and transcend--its understanding of this central problem.

Third, interspersed with the first two themes, Oakley was very interested in questions of methodology, and how best to comprehend political economy processes. He focused on a number of individuals, primarily Adolf Lowe, Karl Popper and Alfred Schutz. Oakley advanced a realist method of economic discourse and sought an understanding of real economies through historical time.

A biographical section is included to lay the groundwork for understanding Oakley's origins and why he studied political economy in the first instance. It also summarises his contributions to institution-building in political economy. It is to these biographical questions that we now turn.

2 Biographical Issues

Allen Charles Oakley was born in Adelaide on 22 July 1943. (1) Oakley's ancestors were South Australian 'first fleeters' (Oakley 2006). He is a descendant of Josiah Oakley (1795-1876), who arrived from England with his wife and eight children on the first free migrant ship, HMS Buffalo, in 1836 (under the Wakefield Scheme). During the early years of Allen's childhood, his father was a printing tradesman and his mother a retail shop worker. Both later managed and owned hotels in South Australia for most of his school years. This was, perhaps, some throwback to the fact that in 1837, Josiah Oakley bought land in Gilles Street, Adelaide and founded the first hotel in Adelaide, initially in a tent. Later it became the Oakley Arms Hotel.

The hotel business meant many moves between towns and cities throughout South Australia and a much disrupted school life. Allen left school in 1960 after five years of high school and completing matriculation. His intention was to enrol in science at Adelaide University. Studying law would have been preferred, but he did not have the required matriculation Latin to enrol. As things turned out, he decided not to go to university just then as he wanted to be independent and travel. As Allen (2006) says, 'this phase of my life is best left blank as it lacks significance or lasting achievement'. …

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