Pareto, Economics and Society: The Mechanical Analogy

By Michael McLure | Go to book overview

The central thesis of the research and the research goals are outlined in Section 1.2 below. The contribution to the literature on Pareto that is claimed for this research is set out in Section 1.3. The approach taken in this study relative to other studies is outlined in Section 1.4. The structure of this book is summarised and discussed in relation to the research goals in Section 1.5. Conclusions drawn from the study are included in Section 1.6.


1.2 Central thesis and research goals

The central thesis

The central thesis of this study is that Pareto’s methodology, and the rapport between pure economic and general sociological theory defined by the mechanical analogy, provides a useful framework for integrated and timeless studies of government and public policy.

The context within which the term ‘timeless’ is used in this study is general. It is based on Pareto’s contention that pure theory facilitates consideration of ‘virtual’ movements from which hypothetical propositions can be derived. Although it is classed as ‘timeless’, this does not suggest that time is irrelevant to theoretical explanations of economic and social outcomes. Virtual movements take time. However, the analogy does not incorporate a clearly specified relationship between virtual movements and real time, and it does not incorporate sequences of cause and effect to introduce the passage of time as a variable that is related to economic and social outcomes.

In this study, the terms ‘government’ and ‘public policy’ both refer to political conduct. The two terms have been separately distinguished to assist the synthetic union of Pareto’s general sociology and pure economics in their political contexts. Political activity that relates to the pursuit of political authority and the consequent stability or change in the collective, is referred to as ‘government’ activity. Political activity considered in isolation from the pursuit of political authority is referred to in the study as ‘public policy’.

The central thesis of this study is sustained by establishing that the framework of Pareto’s mechanical analogy enables the utility of conduct to be considered irrespective of whether the relationship between utility and conduct is ‘stable and enduring’ or ‘unstable’. It is important to appreciate that references in this book to a ‘stable and enduring’ relationship between utility and conduct do not simply allude to the shape of an individual’s utility function (which is important when considering stability at an equilibrium point). They also refer to the stability of the utility function itself, where individuals’ preferences remain unchanged in response to virtual movement within the defined parameters of the utility function. References to an unstable relationship between utility and conduct allude to instability in the shape of the utility function, and/or instability in preferences

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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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