1845. Obligation to have a story

Provocation #84

Each person in society should have – and we need an education system to support this –  an obligation to have in mind a sense – your personal version – of where we are in history how we got here and what can happen.

Because of the domination of society by economics each of us also has an obligation to have in mind  an evolving model of what is economics.

These should be thought about,   continuing to look for ideas and facts that refine your version of the story.


The history of economics is really messy reflecting the struggle over power and wealth mixed up with trying to keep society together and coherent enough to not fall into anarchy.

Here is a paragraph from a very interesting book , highly recommended;  Margaret Shabas, The Natural Origins of Economics.

“Previous economists, Ricardo most saliently, saw distribution as entirely subject to law. Given competitive conditions, profits, wages, and rents were completely determined. Mill recognizes this when he remarks: “Only through the principle of competition has political economy any pretension to the character of a science. So far as rents, profits, wages, prices are determined by competition, laws may be assigned for them . . . and scientific precision may be laid down.” But, he emphasizes, there is never pure competition. Custom al-ways enters in to one degree or another and is especially prevalent in the case of land tenure . In this respect, Mill opened the door to more human deliberation and rule making.”

You can feel the struggle to keep the economic discussion away from questions of social class and the good life for all.

Here is from Univ of Chicago page for her book

References to the economy are ubiquitous in modern life, and virtually every facet of human activity has capitulated to market mechanisms. In the early modern period, however, there was no common perception of the economy, and discourses on money, trade, and commerce treated economic phenomena as properties of physical nature. Only in the early nineteenth century did economists begin to posit and identify the economy as a distinct object, divorcing it from natural processes and attaching it exclusively to human laws and agency.

In The Natural Origins of Economics, Margaret Schabas traces the emergence and transformation of economics in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries from a natural to a social science. Focusing on the works of several prominent economists—David Hume, Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, and John Stuart Mill—


1. Before “the Economy”

2. Related Themes in the Natural Sciences

3. French Economics in the Enlightenment

4. David Hume

5. Smith’s Debts to Nature

6. Classical Political Economy in Its Heyday

7. Mill and the Early Neoclassical Economists

8. Denaturalizing the Economic Order


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