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Social Economics: An Alternative Theory, vol. 1, Building Anew on Marshall's Principles.

Neva Goodwin has produced a book which is addressed to economists, and to non-economists who are interested in the methodology of the social sciences |p. xv~. The reader is told that "Our subject is economics" and is asked to "consider the possibility that neoclassical and Marxian economics--the two dominant systems for pursuing this subject--do not exhaust the possibilities of the field" |p. 3~. This possibility being taken as an actuality, Goodwin takes on the task of "assembling a new, or newly put-together, system of economic theory to cover some of the space within the potential field of economic study that is at present inadequately filled. This newly defined system of theory . . . will be called Social Economics" |p. 4~. The present book is "an introduction to social economics; a fuller development of the subject will require time, effort, and exposition by many hands comparable to that which has been afforded to the neoclassical and Marxian systems" |p. 21~. Indeed, Goodwin refers |p. 23~ to a future Volume 2 of Social Economics.

One can only sympathize with Goodwin's wish for a more complete exploration of such issues as coercion, values, the use of assumptions, identity, autonomy and control, technology, altruism, institutions, and global economics |pp. 22-24~. In fact, many of these issues are the bread-and-butter of institutional economics, as can be seen from an examination of Allan G. Gruchy, The Reconstruction of Economics (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1987), and Marc Tool, Evolutionary Economics, 2 vols. (Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1988). It is puzzling that there is so little reference to the ideas of contemporary institutionalists in Social Economics, for Goodwin expressly says that "My debt to this 'school', as I set forth upon an ambitious attempt to pull together existing and new elements into a newly defined theory, is very great" |p. 112~. When one considers the existence of a thriving, if neither universally appreciated or fully understood, institutional economics, one begins to wonder if there truly is "a need, within the total field of economics, for one or more additional pools of illumination which will cover areas within the whole potential field of economics where neither neoclassical nor the Marxian lamps reach very well" |p. 9~.

Social Economics contains four parts. Part I consists of an introduction to social economics, while Part IV summarizes the challenges which social economics faces; these are the parts which most closely touch upon the institutionalist tradition. Parts II and III deal with problems of textual analysis in the social sciences and Marshall's search for a scientific way of inserting values into a social science. Parts II and III are probably based upon N. Goodwin, "Back to the Fork: What We Have Derived from Marshallian Economics, and What We Might Have Derived" (Ph.D. dissertation, Boston University, 1988) |p. 112~.

Goodwin's thoughts about Marshall are intriguing. Marshall's position as "the first of the great neoclassical economists" is recognized, but it is also noticed that he was able to "draw on the full richness and breadth of the classical discipline 'political economy'" |p. 104~. Consequently, "two paths were visible" to Marshall, and "his preference was to proceed simultaneously down both of them, resulting in the ambivalences and the stretching for inclusiveness which give such distinctive flavour to his writing." Of these two paths, "one has been developed as neoclassical economics. . . . Social economics, as the other path on which Marshall can be seen to have walked, has remained relatively latent" |p. 106~.(1) That is why, in looking for a point of departure for social economics, "Marshall's work is an obvious choice" |p. 104~.

It may well be that Marshall is a precursor of social economics, in the sense that he gave close attention to the role of values in human life. Marshall is, after all, the one who said that "man's character has been moulded by his every-day work, and the material resources which he thereby procures, more than by any other influence unless it be that of his religious ideals; and the two great forming agencies of the world's history have been the religious and the economic."(2) As Marshall, and now Goodwin, indicate, the values of man (and woman) are formed by their work, which is surely true, notwithstanding the ingenious methodological strategy expressed in George J. Stigler and Gary S. Becker, "De Gustibus Non Est disputandum," American Economic Review, March 1977, 76-90. If Goodwin succeeds in getting more economists to take value change seriously, a worthwhile contribution will have been made.

There are, then, some ideas of real value in Social Economics, ideas which call for further exploration. Specifically, there is the presentation of a (somewhat) new view of Marshall and a call for an expanded study of value formation by economists. But the fact of the matter is that Goodwin has tried to do too much, and has ended up with a book that is at times chaotic--the book has the feel of a collection of essays--and at other times overly self-conscious of (alleged) breaks with economic thinking. The book would have been greatly improved through the offices of a good editor, or failing that, a decision to focus on the two-sided character of Marshall's work. As it is, the book requires an act of will to read it from beginning to end.

1. The two-sided character of Marshall's work has previously been noticed, and in much the same words, as long ago as 1931. For a reprint, see T. Parsons, "Wants and Activities in Marshall," Alfred Marshall: Critical Assessments, edited by John Cunningham Wood (London: Croom Helm, 1982), I:179-208, especially 180. Analogous views were expressed in 1977, and are now reprinted as J. K. Whitaker, "Some Neglected Aspects of Alfred Marshall's Economic and Social Thought," Alfred Marshall, I:453-86.

2. Alfred Marshall, Principles of Economics, 9th (variorum) edition, edited with annotations by C. W. Guillebaud (London: Macmillan, 1961), I:1.
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Author:Larson, Bruce
Publication:Southern Economic Journal
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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