Pareto, Economics and Society: The Mechanical Analogy

By Michael McLure | Go to book overview

1

Introduction

1.1 The purpose of the study

The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between Pareto’s economic and sociological theory in the context of government and public policy processes. The primary focus of this research is on those theoretical contributions of Pareto’s that are relevant to the study of politics, with emphasis given to his analogy with mechanics.

Pareto’s body of work is enormous. It ranges across disciplines, addresses many varied phenomena, and contains fragmented theoretical contributions to many of the social sciences. His work can, and has been, successfully studied without reference to the mechanical analogy. Consequently, this study provides one perspective on Pareto’s work, and there is no suggestion that it is the only legitimate approach. Nevertheless, the mechanical analogy is adopted in this study because it was extensively utilised by Pareto and, since it defines a clear rapport between pure economics and general sociology, it is highly suited to the study of government and public policy.

In this context, the mechanical analogy constitutes a framework for a theoretical analysis of economic and social ‘forces’ using analytical instruments that reveal some similarity with physics. It is not predicated on the assumption that human conduct in society is mechanistic and precisely determined. Pareto recognised the complexities and vagaries of human conduct, and his instruments of sociological analysis developed within his mechanical analogy are applied to the study of society within that context.

Given the purpose of this study, with the associated emphasis on economic and sociological theory, Pareto’s specific empirical findings have not been examined here. Applied studies are only considered in a general methodological context, where their relationship to pure or general theory (such as theory built on the mechanical analogy) is discussed.

Pareto’s works of most relevance to this research are his four major theoretical treatises: the 1896-97 Cours d’Economie Politique (Pareto 1971a); the 1901-02 Les Systèmes Socialistes (Pareto 1974b); the 1906 Manuale di Economia Politica (Pareto 1974c); and the 1916 Trattato di Sociologia Generale (Pareto 1935). These works are briefly summarised in the Appendix to this volume.

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Pareto, Economics and Society: The Mechanical Analogy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations x
  • Foreword xi
  • Preface xiv
  • Acknowledgements xvii
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Methodology 20
  • 3 - Method 40
  • 4 - Determinism, Ideology and the Mechanical Analogy 67
  • 5 - Collective Economic Welfare 91
  • 6 - Les Systèmes Socialistes and Buchanan’s Constitutive Elements of Economic Policy 119
  • 7 - Rationality, Individualism and Public Policy 139
  • 8 - Government and Public Policy 155
  • 9 - Conclusion 179
  • Notes 194
  • Bibliography 206
  • Index 219
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