Flying High on Deconstruction and Reasonable Value

By Samuel, Sajay; Covaleski, Mark A. et al. | Journal of Economic Issues, December 1998 | Go to article overview

Flying High on Deconstruction and Reasonable Value


Samuel, Sajay, Covaleski, Mark A., Dirsmith, Mark W., Journal of Economic Issues


Chasse is a polemicist. His belligerence is both deadly and sneaky. After killing off two pilots on an imagined Air France Concorde, he condemns us and Derrida to collective suicide - all this buried in endnote seven! There are three ways of dealing with warriors such as he. One is to ignore them; another is to fight them on their ground; and a third is to do a little of both. We, after some debate, have chosen the third way.

We ignore most of his stuff on deconstruction per se and on its (ir)relevance to institutional economics, that is, the first and last sections of his paper. We stand by the brief outline on these points in our previous paper. Moreover, we direct interested readers to Warren Samuel's able comments on this issue and to the considerable primary and secondary literature on the topic. However, one insight from postmodern thought we would reiterate here is that the writers' intentions, whatever they may be, cannot control a readers' interpretation of a text.(1) Chasse castigates us for not honoring Commons's intentions as a writer. We do not deny that he may possess superhuman powers to divine authorial intent, though we doubt it. Nevertheless, his paper is a good example of the notion that all reading is an interpretation and, moreover, of the fact that sloppy reading can obfuscate and even falsify what seems to be fairly clear. We give one example here to illustrate this point, while others follow in due course.

In a gloss on Commons's concept of reasonable value, we wrote: "However, Commons saw that his concept of reasonable value might have been threatened by too much subjectivity . . ." [1997, 11]. In his take on this, Chasse writes: "Because (reasonable return) was too objective, they argue, (Commons) proposed as a 'subjective supplement' discussion among reasonable people" (emphasis added). We are mildly, though not completely, surprised (since his is a polemic) when Chasse ascribes to us the precise opposite of what we wrote, especially when he is so concerned by how deconstruction presupposes the "leveling of discourse." It is the notion of "physical valuation" that invokes objectivity through calculation. What is "reasonable" is a matter of collective or individual judgment and hence subjective. While authorial intention and reading as interpretation are contested philosophical points that Chasse may or may not agree with, a modicum of attention to the text is something he can and ought to cultivate.

We suspect that Chasse uses our paper as a stone on which to grind his ax. His problems seem to lie more with deconstruction per se, rather than our arguments. How else are we to comprehend his gratuitous invocation of Nazism (gratuitous because Nazism was not founded on deconstruction), his utter misreading of our central point, and that his pertinent empirical evidence on Commons only reinforces our claims?

Our central point was that much of economic policy is rhetorically constituted, and we applied the precepts of deconstruction to elucidate that point. This we stated baldly in both the introduction and the conclusion. Chasse wants, as a serious economist, to get on with making policy and solving problems. Perhaps before he busily begins to do so, he might reflect on the conceptual space within which this occurs. That was the point of our paper, and its scope was narrowly circumscribed. We were investigating the rhetoric through which utility regulation was justified, contested, and implemented, and why the terms of this rhetoric had remained broadly the same over the last century. This is why we also referred to the contemporary discourse around utility regulation, which Chasse dismisses as "pick(ing) ideas out of the neoclassical hat." Incomprehension often, it seems, leads to fighting words!

The focus on utility regulation was largely accidental - one of us partially supervised a doctoral thesis on accounting in public utilities, and our prior work in the sociology of accounting had introduced us to Commons and the Progressive era. …

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