The Association for Evolutionary Economics and the Union for Radical Political Economics: General Issues of Continuity and Integration

By O'Hara, Phillip Anthony | Journal of Economic Issues, March 1995 | Go to article overview

The Association for Evolutionary Economics and the Union for Radical Political Economics: General Issues of Continuity and Integration


O'Hara, Phillip Anthony, Journal of Economic Issues


This paper examines the link between themes and trends within the traditions of the Association for Evolutionary Economics (AFEE) and the Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE). In more recent years, organizational developments have provided the basis for collective work in radical political economy. AFEE and URPE have done much since the 1960s to foster the organizational solidarity necessary for the evolution of non-neoclassical political economy in the United States. There are active groups of "radical institutionalists" and "institutional neo-Marxists" in these organizations. The "radical institutionalists" utilize a holistic method while critically examining the hegemonic institutions associated with corporate capitalism (and Stalinist "socialism"). This group includes Bill Dugger, John Elliott, Daniel Fusfeld, Geoff Hodgson, Ann Jennings, Jerry Petr, Ron Stanfield, Rick Tilman, and Bill Waller (among others), who have generally been members of both AFEE and URPE. The "institutional neo-Marxists" (or post-Marxists), like the institutionalists, place a great deal of emphasis on institutional structure and evolution, and their analysis is particularly holistic. Sam Bowles, David Gordon, E. K. Hunt, Arthur MacEwan, Elaine McCrate, Steve Resnick, David Ruccio, Howard Sherman, and Rick Wolff, members of URPE (and some of AFEE), are leading lights of this group. This paper illustrates a large degree of continuity between these and many other institutionalists and institutional neo-Marxists. The future of radical economics depends on whether the required unity can be fostered and a radical institutional analysis developed. Sectarianism, disorganization, and disunity can only hinder the development of radical economics in the United States and elsewhere.(1)

The Origins and Tendencies of AFEE and URPE

Dissatisfaction with free market orthodoxy led to the formation of the American Economic Association (AEA) in 1885; it has been described as "an act of rebellion of some considerable importance" [Martin and Mayhew 1987, 376]. It is not surprising, then, that when Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929) was active, institutional and historical economics had a respectable, or at least conspicuous, position within the AEA. Indeed, Geoffrey Hodgson [1988, 21] believes that "in the interwar period [1919-1938] institutionalism was actually the dominant school of economic thought in the US." As time went on, however, the idea of institutional economics being theoretical dissent, rather than mere historical, statistical, or applied economics, waned, and IPE lost ground to neoclassical formalism between the 1940s and 1960s. Some concerns of institutionalists were integrated within the orthodoxy, and the short-term success of the "Keynesian revolution" in the 1950s and 1960s led many economists to ignore specific evolutionary and critical themes in institutional economics. By the late 1950s, many U.S. institutional economists felt the pages of the American Economic Review to be alien territory to all institutionalists except the most well-known. Some felt the need for an alternative organization to provide a forum of dissent to the orthodox themes. Institutionalists began "rump sessions" at the annual meetings of the AER in 1958; by 1965 AFEE was formed, and the Journal of Economic Issues (JEI) began publication in 1967.(2) The history of that journal is known to readers of this journal and will not be repeated here.

An openness and eclecticism that has characterized the JEI led to the publication of at least 30 articles on Marx and on the link between institutional political economy (IPE) and Marxist political economy (MPE) and at least 21 articles on "socialism" and many more on worker control/participation and economic planning. An explicitly radical institutionalist, Daniel Fusfeld, served as a vice president (1970) and president (1971) of AFEE (he is a current member of AFEE and a former member of URPE). The JEI has been much more open in considering the merits or otherwise of Marx and Marxian themes, plus the link between IPE and MPE, than URPE (see below) has in considering Veblen, explicitly institutionalist themes, plus the MPE-IPE link. …

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