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Economics, Power and Culture: Essays in the Development of Radical Institutionalism.

This book contains thirteen essay-chapters, introduction, preface, references, and index. The essays were done over the period 1974 through 1989. The collection of essays represent early foundations of radical institutionalism, written before radical institutionalism had even become a widely recognized aspect of institutionalism itself. So, the collection is important because of its pathbreaking nature. The major theme running through the essays and unifying them into a significant book is the theme of crisis in late capitalism. This theme also makes the collection into a coherent book, the whole of which is greater than the sum of its parts.

The book deals with three related dimensions of contemporary crisis: 1) the economic dimension, 2) the cultural dimension, and 3) the role of radical institutionalism itself. Each dimension is worthy of attention. I will try to summarize Stanfield's contributions in each dimension with a few paragraphs.

First, Professor Stanfield explains the economic crisis of late capitalism in terms of two related elements. The democratic, industrialized economies are in crisis because of the ways in which they are absorbing and/or falling to absorb their growing economic surpluses. They are also in crisis because of growing imbalances in their economies. Failing to redistribute income far more widely and equally, the industrial democracies have fallen back on violent spirals of military spending and on invidious orgies of conspicuous consumption to absorb the rising surplus. But the resulting growth in production and realization of profit potential has been by fits and starts. Stagnation and widespread unemployment have always been on the verge of breaking out, particularly when an interlude of peace is encountered or when the Galbraithian revised sequence bogs down. The industrial democracies have developed imbalances between the quantities of production and consumption and between the qualities of knowledge brought to bear on decisions regarding each. Furthermore, economic imbalance has intensified because the mere material means of living a full life (consumption) have become the ends of life itself.

Second, Professor Stanfield explains how the cultural crisis of late capitalism is related to the economic crisis. The inversion of the means and ends of the human life process is a result of the economy being disembedded from the society (Karl Polanyi's great theme). We are confronted with the paradox of affluence - a deterioration in the quality of life in spite of continued growth in the quantity of production. What we need is better relations with each other; but what we get is more production of commodities. While we are producing all these commodities, we lose sight of the fact that we are also producing our own character and reproducing a particular kind of culture in the character of our children - a character and culture that place economic gain over social responsibility.

Professor Stanfield explains that economics is of little help in coming to grips with our cultural crisis - with our crisis in character - because the economics that dominates our universities assumes that questions of human character (preferences) are exogenous. What we need is a social or institutional economics that makes human character endogenous. Such an economics would embed the economy in the society and would replace neoclassical economics because neoclassicism treats the really important issues as exogenous parameters or disturbances. In making the formerly exogenous disturbances into endogenous factors, Professor Stanfield's economics would be not only social and institutional but also ecological. And here is where the third dimension of the crisis of late capitalism enters Stanfield's theme.

The third dimension of the crisis is the need for a radical institutionalism. By "radical," Stanfield means two things - an approach that penetrates to the roots of the economic system and an approach that takes a critical stance toward the status quo. A radical institutionalism would be a synthesis of Marxism and institutionalism capable of demystifying the contemporary crisis and capable of dealing with the moral and ethical issues of personal responsibility and social control. The task before radical institutionalists is that of re-embedding the economy into the society and into the ecology.

The book contains much else besides the crisis of late capitalism. Stanfield's brief analysis of a neglected classic by Clarence Ayres, The Divine Right of Capital, is particularly noteworthy. Needless to say, the book is provocative. It is also well worth reading.

William M. Dugger The University of Tulsa
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Author:Dugger, William M.
Publication:Southern Economic Journal
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1996
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