nep-hpe New Economics Papers
on History and Philosophy of Economics
Issue of 2020‒12‒07
five papers chosen by
Erik Thomson
University of Manitoba

  1. The Sea Battle Tomorrow: The Identity of Reflexive Economic Agents By John B. Davis
  2. A Road Not Taken? A Brief History of Care in Economic Thought By John B. Davis
  3. �Openness� as a Methodological Principle of Sraffa�s Economic Thinking By John B. Davis
  4. The lighthouse after Coase: Alternative ways to provide goods and func-tions of state By Kalyagin Grigory
  5. Public Understanding of Economics and Economic Statistics By Johnny Runge; Nathan Hudson-Sharp

  1. By: John B. Davis (Department of Economics Marquette University)
    Abstract: This paper develops a conception of reflexive economic agents as an alternative to the standard utility conception, and explains individual identity in terms of how agents adjust to change in a self-organizing way, an idea developed from Herbert Simon. The paper distinguishes closed equilibrium and open process conceptions of the economy, and argues the former fails to explain time in a before-and-after sense in connection with Aristotle's sea battle problem. A causal model is developed to represent the process conception, and a structure-agency understanding of the adjustment behavior of reflexive economic agents is illustrated using Merton's self-fulfilling prophecy analysis. Simon's account of how adjustment behavior has stopping points is then shown to underlie how agents' identities are disrupted and then self-organized, and the identity analysis this involves is applied to the different identity models of Merton, Ross, Arthur, and Kirman. Finally, the self-organization idea is linked to the recent 'preference purification' debate in bounded rationality theory regarding the 'inner rational agent trapped in an outer psychological shell,' and it is argued that the behavior of self-organizing agents involves them taking positions toward their own individual identities.
    Keywords: reflexivity, Simon, Aristotle identity, self-fulfilling prophecy
    JEL: B11 B25 B41
    Date: 2020–02
  2. By: John B. Davis (Department of Economics Marquette University)
    Abstract: Care is central to the human experience and part of the social provisioning process. Adam Smith recognized this, associating care with sympathy. Later contributions in the political economy tradition also provide scope for an analysis of care, but none as developed as Smith�s. With the emergence of the current mainstream, care is marginalized. Kenneth Boulding�s analysis provides an opportunity to interrogate care in the economy, but he fails to explicitly acknowledge care. It is left to feminist economics to highlight the centrality of care. An implication is that it challenges the conventional rubric of economic organization predicated on self-interest.
    Keywords: care, Smith, feminist economics, Boulding, social provisioning
    JEL: B10 B54 I00 Z00
    Date: 2019–10
  3. By: John B. Davis (Department of Economics Marquette University)
    Abstract: This paper discusses the impact of Sraffa�s thinking on economics. It argues increasing specialization in research is producing an �all trees, no forest� fragmentation of economics that creates opportunities for a return to concerns that motivated classical political economy. It associates this with a methodological conception of what a more pluralistic economics involves, and applies this to relationships between production and distribution. A methodological conception of �openness� is traced to a 1931 turning point in Sraffa�s thinking when he used an open-closed distinction to explain the relationship between production and distribution, and engaged in a philosophy of science reasoning reminiscent of systems theory. The paper argues there are important parallels between Sraffa and Gramsci�s thinking regarding the open-closed distinction.
    Keywords: Sraffa, political economy, fragmentation, open-closed, pluralism, Gramsci
    JEL: B2 B4 B5
    Date: 2019–10
  4. By: Kalyagin Grigory (Department of Economics, Lomonosov Moscow State University)
    Abstract: This article is an attempt to find the answer to the question of what determines the choice of the method of providing different goods. Why is one good given as private good, the other as a club good, the third as a practically pure public good, the fourth as a mix of different forms. In fact, this question includes the question of what the state should (and should not) do. The main part of the article is devoted to a review of the discussion concerning the good, which played a special role in economic theory - the lighthouses. Although the classics of political economy XIX - early XX centuries. considered them as striking examples of pure public goods, the famous article by R. Coase [Coase, 1974] concludes that the services of lighthouses in Eng-land and Wales were not funded from general taxes, that is, they were not provided as public goods until the second third XIX century. Further development of this discussion, which is still incomplete and actual, leads to the understanding that lighthouse services are provided in dif-ferent countries and / or at different times as goods of various types. The same applies to al-most any other goods. The concrete way of providing this good depends not only on the country and time, but also on how to counter what specific offenses it provides. We conclude that there are no private, public, etc. the benefits themselves do not exist, and a socially effective way of delivering benefits depends on the technologies and institutions available in the society.
    Keywords: public good; lighthouse; market failures; Coase; Stiglitz.
    JEL: B41 D61 H41 H42
    Date: 2020–10
  5. By: Johnny Runge; Nathan Hudson-Sharp
    Abstract: This study explores the public understanding of economics and economics statistics, through mixed-methods research with the UK public, including 12 focus groups with 130 participants and a nationally representative survey with 1,665 respondents. It shows that people generally understand economic issues through the lens of their familiar personal economy rather than the abstract national economy. The research shows that large parts of the UK public have misperceptions about how economic figures, such as the unemployment and inflation rate, are collected and measured, and who they are produced and published by. This sometimes affected participants’ subsequent views of the perceived accuracy and reliability of economic statistics. Broadly, the focus groups demonstrated suggested that people are often sceptical and cynical about any data they see, and that official economic data are subject to the same public scrutiny as any other data. In line with other research, the survey found consistent and substantial differences in economic knowledge and interest across different groups of the UK population. This report will be followed up with an engagement exercise to discuss findings with stakeholders, in order to draw out recommendations on how to improve the communication of economics and economic figures statistics to the public.
    Keywords: communication, economic statistics, public perceptions, public understanding
    JEL: D83 Z00
    Date: 2020–11

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