Contesting Markets: Analyses of Ideology, Discourse and Practice

By Roy Dilly | Go to book overview

3
Modes of Economic-Theoretical Engagement

PETER PRESTON

At the present time in Western Europe there is considerable debate in respect of the completion of the single market. Relatedly within Eastern Europe in the wake of the political changes of late 1989 there is much discussion about the construction of market economies. Within the domestic UK context we have experienced some ten years of relentless pressure/propaganda in favour of the market. It seems to me that it is an appropriate time to re-enter what is a long-established area of scholarly social scientific debate, namely, how ought we to theorise the market?

I will begin by taking note of some of the available scholarly material which addresses this matter, and will continue by looking at the work of the neo-classical theorists of laissez-faire. I will argue that the material of neo-classical economics both dominates and degrades social scientific analysis and that it must be set aside if we are to fashion a scholarly approach to analysing matters of human economic activity.


3.1 THE GENERAL CONTEXT

Within the history of ideas orthodox neo-classical economics is taken to be a late nineteenth-century tradition, usually associated with the names of Jevons, Menger, Walras and Alfred Marshall ( Deane 1978). It was constructed, reports Dasgupta, in reaction to the perceived socialistic implications of the political economic approach; thus he observes:

There is reason to believe that the marginalist's quest for an alternative approach to economic theory, ostensibly a scientific quest, had inherently a political purpose . . . An anti-capitalist critique indeed grew up . . . based on the implications of classical political economy . . . It seems clear that marginalism is a reaction to this. Marginalists not only repudiate the classical theories of value and distribution; they also repudiate the social and political implications of these theories. The marginalist system marks a revival of economic liberalism as against its socialist critique. ( 1985:95)

Marginalism came to dominate economics. For these theorists the market system exists as a given, largely independent of human kind whose multiple individual efforts generate it as a kind of all embracing epiphenomena. A measure of economic knowledge can be accumulated but its extent is limited to the knowledge necessary to

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