Capitalism, Employment, and Complexity: With Further Critical Comments on Another Hodgson. (Notes and Communications)

By Hodgson, Geoffrey M. | Journal of Economic Issues, March 2002 | Go to article overview

Capitalism, Employment, and Complexity: With Further Critical Comments on Another Hodgson. (Notes and Communications)


Hodgson, Geoffrey M., Journal of Economic Issues


I would be very grateful if the readers of this journal would help me. It seems that there is another "Geoffrey Hodgson" who also published a book called Economics and Utopia in 1999. This other Hodgson is the one whom Stephanie Bell and John Henry (2001) have criticized so forcibly in a recent issue of this journal. The position they criticized is so very different from my own that it is clear there must be another Hodgson at large. I am most grateful to Stephanie and John for bringing this other Hodgson to my attention. But I cannot find this other Hodgson's (1999) work anywhere. This other Hodgson seems to have plagiarized a few words from my own book and, to make matters worse, seems also to be responsible for a number of silly arguments. I am also grateful to Stephanie and John for showing how weak the other Hodgson's arguments are. But I am still worried. This other Hodgson could be confused with me!

I am asking for the help of JEI readers in two ways. First, if anyone has a copy of Eco. nomics and Utopia by the other "Geoffrey Hodgson," then I shall love to obtain a copy. Second, I ask to be allowed to explain here how my views differ from those of the other Hodgson. I fully acknowledge that my own ideas are not always presented with optimum clarity, so I appreciate this opportunity to have another try.

In the following section I recapitulate some of the ideas of the other Hodgson, as portrayed by Bell and Henry. I contrast my own views with those of my unfortunate namesake. In the subsequent section I summarize, for the record, my own argument in the third part of my Economics and Utopia.

The Contrasting Views of the Two Hodgsons

Lacking access to the original work myself, all my depictions of the other Hodgson are taken from the account in Bell and Henry 2001. As I know and admire their works, I assume that their account of the other Hodgson is accurate. Bell and Henry centered on two principal issues in his book.

First, Bell and Henry depicted the other Hodgson as some kind of technological determinist who sees technological changes as the primary force behind potential changes in the employment relation. Hence, according to Bell and Henry (2001, 339), the other Hodgson sees "technological change as a threat to the employment relations that define capitalism."

Fortunately, I do not take such a technological determinist or one-sided view. Contrary to the other Hodgson, in my book it is not technology, but growing complexity and specialist skills, that can emerge as a possible threat to the employment relationship at the center of capitalism. These basic assumptions concerning complexity and specialist skills are outlined on pages 181-4 in a section entitled "The advance of complexity and knowledge." This scenario is the core of my argument concerning the drivers of change.

It does not center on technological developments. Although I did discuss some relevant technological changes in the book, these are auxiliary to my core argument.

Nowhere did I argue that technological change is itself a threat to capitalist employment relations. In fact, in some passages I criticized some formulations in Marx (Hodgson 1999, 131) and Veblen (Hodgson 1999, 140) for suggesting--at least to some interpreters-that technological changes can themselves lead directly to changes in social relations.

Unlike the other Hodgson, I am not a technological determinist. I wrote that "[t]echnology has an effect on the nature, pattern, organization and context of work, but alone it does not determine them. It can be used in different ways, leading to different outcomes" (1999, 187). I also acknowledged in my book that technology can be used for repression, surveillance, and control. I wrote, for instance, that "developments in information technology may enable increased surveillance of--and power over--sections of the workforce, undermining further their flexibility and autonomy. …

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