Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Homo Socio-Economicus: Foundational to Social Economics and the Social Economy *

Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Homo Socio-Economicus: Foundational to Social Economics and the Social Economy *

Article excerpt

Social economists and conventional economists are divided over the place of need and want in economic thought because of their different views on the questions who and what are the worker and the consumer. Both parties scarcely are aware that different perspectives at the metaphysical level, where discourse among economists rarely occurs, have a powerful influence on the different viewpoints taken at other levels where discourse regularly occurs. The purpose of this article published in 1994 is to probe the person of the worker and the consumer from a social-economics perspective and to compare that to what is received from conventional economics. Mainstream economics calls its vision of the worker-consumer homo economicus. The vision of social economics is referred to as homo socio-economicus.

Keywords: human physical need/want, conventional economics and physical need, social economics and physical need, subsidiarity and unmet need, need for work as such

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In his introduction to The Social Economics of Human Material Need, John Davis directs attention to a paradox that only a few in mainstream economic thought are willing to admit:

   The concept of need, that is, human material need, is perhaps on of
   the most paradoxical of economic concepts. On the one hand, the idea
   of need seems an inescapable dimension of economic life. We can
   hardly begin to talk about the problems and concerns that drive
   economic thinking without speaking about those individuals,
   families, and communities whose needs go unmet and who are hoped to
   be important beneficiaries of economic growth and social policy. On
   the other hand, mainstream economic theory today--whose prominence
   and self-proclaimed scientific standing challenge the most dedicated
   of humanists--denies needs can be distinguished from wants, and
   indeed denies that the concept of need has any legitimate standing
   in economics whatsoever. Need in the modern world, it thus results,
   is a matter of pre-eminence that nonetheless escapes formal
   recognition. Need is a real, inescapable dimension of contemporary
   economic life, but at the same time seemingly unworthy of the
   professional attention of those who devote themselves to
   systematically explaining economic life. In short, the very concept
   of need escapes us, while in every day life we continually respond
   to our needs and those of others (Davis 1994: 1).

This paradox, which has central significance for economics and the economy because any economic system that fails to help provision unmet need is unstable economically and politically, demands an extensive re-examination of economic thought. Essential to that re-examination and to the social economy is a reconsideration of human beings in their two central roles--work and consumption.

Such a re-examination is not a new undertaking for social economists. It is, rather, a continuation of a journey begun collectively more than 50 years ago by the founders of the Association for Social Economics and long before that by various social economists acting more or less individually. I invite others in the Association to continue with me on this leg of the journey for, as George Rohrlich said, "a burden shared is a burden made lighter."

The paradox of need reflects vitally important differences between mainstream economists and social economists regarding the metaphysics of the human being as worker and consumer. Put differently, social economics and conventional economics are divided over the place of need and want in economic thought because they hold markedly different views on the questions who and what are the worker and the consumer. Further, both parties are scarcely aware that different perspectives at the metaphysical level, where discourse among economists rarely occurs, have a powerful influence of the different viewpoints taken at other levels where discourse among economists regularly occurs. …

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