Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Clarifying and Developing the 'Economics and Reality' Project: Closed and Open Systems, Deductivism, Prediction, and Teaching

Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Clarifying and Developing the 'Economics and Reality' Project: Closed and Open Systems, Deductivism, Prediction, and Teaching

Article excerpt

It is a privilege to have others comment upon one's own work, and I am extremely grateful to Allin Cottrell, Zohreh Emami, Tim Riordan, Roy Rotheim, and Alex Viskovatoff. I am also gratified by the sympathetic responses displayed and revealed willingness to engage, develop and even to put some of my ideas to use. With space restricted it seems sensible here if I concentrate most on the criticisms of Economics and Reality that are made. This means using more space replying to the points of Cottrell rather than those of the others. I do, of course, also address the central points of each contributor, not least with the intent of providing clarification and taking the discussion forward. But while I am heartened by expressions of agreement it does not seem the most useful of strategies to concentrate upon them. I thus start with Cottrell's comments, the most critical, turning next to Viskovatoff's piece which suggests that some corrections are in order, turning to the more interpretive and developmental pieces by Rotheim and by Emami and Riordan, the latter being especially concerned with connecting theory and teaching practice.


Allin Cottrell finds that I am in error in

1 supposing the social world to be open (that social event regularities are rather rare);

2 apparently resting my case for my conception of social reality as structured and open on an (incompatibilist) account of human choice; and

3 believing I avoid using prediction in the manner of mainstream economists.

I have critical responses to all of these assessments. Although Cottrell focuses mostly on concerns covered in point 2, believing that it is my "mode of argument" that leads me "to underestimate the importance of both empirical regularities and prediction in economics," it is in fact the set of issues raised in point 1, turning on the question of the openness of the social system, that is the crux of the matter and the subject of my starting point. Let me attempt to make my position clearer on relevant points.

In Economics and Reality I maintain, as an ex posteriori assessment, that event regularities that are both of sufficient strictness to be of use to economic modelers, and of scientific interest (i.e., containing some revelatory insight; acting behind our backs, as it were(1)), are rather rare. Among other things, if fifty years of econometric failure (in the face of billions of "regressions") is suggestive of anything it is surely that regularities of the sort being sought-after may after all be thin on the ground. In consequence, it seems at least reasonable that the hypothesis of the non-occurrence of event regularities of the sort being pursued be taken seriously.

On what basis does Cottrell suggest that social event regularities of interest are to be had? Mainly he

1 gives a couple of examples of suggested regularities: when people go to work they get paid at the end of a given period; when someone loses her or his temper others cooperate less thereafter;

2 claims that even if regularities are not exceptionless they hold with high enough probability to be a reasonable guide to life, and

3 asserts that "On the other hand it seems implausible that most people's everyday actions are informed by knowledge of deep structures" (page 351).

Suppose, taking up the first suggested example of a regularity, that Cottrell goes each day to work as a decorator for a large firm of decorators. Each week he gets paid. At nighttime he returns home and decorates his own place. Does he get paid for this? Does he expect to be paid for this? Does he have a (non-zero) expectation of being paid the same in both (or all) situations determined on the basis of probabilistic reasoning (whatever probability might mean in such contexts)? I suspect not, precisely because we all understand something of the nature of capitalist relations, and in particular the nature of the wage relationship. …

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