Social Economics: Premises, Findings and Policies

By Edward J. O'Boyle | Go to book overview

2

JOHN STUART MILL

A herald of social economics

Hans E. Jensen1

In his perceptive examination of contemporary social economics, Mark A. Lutz identified four major strands-Catholic solidarism, Marxist socialism, American institutionalism, and humanism (Lutz 1990:ix, x)-the last two of which are of special interest in what follows principally as regards the contributions of Clarence E. Ayres to the third strand and of Amitai Etzioni to the fourth. It is my thesis that John Stuart Mill is a precursor of Ayres's instrumentalism and of Etzioni's deontological socioeconomics and that part of Mill's work may be viewed as an early form of social economics, or "social economy," as he put it himself (CW 4:320). 2 To be specific, Mill operated with concepts of technology and institutions à la Ayres, who argued that "technology is a dynamic force" that, when the cultural setting is right, may prevail over "the static force of institutions" with the result that the relevant "institutions…[will be] undergoing modification" (Ayres 1952:60, 59). Moreover, Mill constructed his social economics through a synthesis of what may be viewed as his embryonic neoclassicism and his slightly less embryonic institutionalism, both to be discussed below. He did so in a manner similar to Etzioni's when the latter fashioned his social economics by means of a combination of the "neoclassical paradigm" and "an emerging deontological paradigm." By the latter, Etzioni understood a Kantian "ethic that sees human beings as subject to 'binding duties'" (Etzioni 1990b:1, and 1990a:221). 3

Mill's concepts of human nature and behavior are crucial elements in his neoclassicism as well as in his institutionalism. Hence I shall start my inquiry with a discussion of "Mill on Human Nature and Character." It will be followed by sections on "Mill's Embryonic Neoclassicism," "Mill's Institutionalism," and "Mill's Institutionalist Social Economics." I shall close with some speculative comments about the legitimacy of viewing Mill as a herald of the Etzionian type of humanistic social economics.

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