1871. Economics and adaptation to society

Provocation 91. Are changes in economics due to science or social adaptation?


We tend to think of changes in economic thinking as scientific advances, but what if the changes are really shifts in adaptation to radically changing societies? Economists tend to think that if economics evolves it is because of a single or a few practitioners publishing a paper, or presented at a conference or seminar.

But the new economics can be seen as a better fit to the needs of the whole social situation, especially as privileged by elites and the bureaucratic state. Think of national income accounting and the war effort or The shift from Physiocrats to Adam Smith to the Ricardo, Marshal, John Stuart Mill, Marx, Keynes. The changes are all ones that fit the changing character of the whole society. I think the changes we see in economics are more successful adaptations to new realities than scientific advances. Modern economics can be seen as the infrastructure for managing the manufacturing banker state.
This implies that new economic thinking is more likely to come from major adaptations to social shifts than to the efforts of individual researchers.

If we look at the major shifts we also see that society changes much more than we seem to think it will. Agricultural to manufacturing to financial capitalism to..

Look at the rise of the combination of game theory, complexity, big data and Darwin. This combination is very conservative, maintaining the computability of economics and the existing digitization/competitive model, but I think this is too low a level to grasp the main changes going on.

Compare it to the more challenging
Collapse of Complex Societies.

Joseph Tainter, in the book by that title, argues
1. As societies grow more complex the cost of maintenance goes up faster that the surplus. Maintenance costs overshoot and the society collapses.
2. Elites own the infrastructure of the society. When the infrastructure starts showing signs of failure, to protect themselves they cut costs and take money out of the system rather than investing in its reinventions.

In economics we do not tend to take on the big issues. They don’t fit career and department management nor the needs of clients for a rifle shot to the enemy nor a justification for their own activity. These are for hire but don’t help society cope with the major changes. However thinkers will arise who fit the emerging social needs.

What happens for example if population stops growing. Do we get deflation in the economy? And of course that tendency to deflation (less people less product – unless other changes) is in the context of climate troubles and inequality that may amplify the process.
Lots to think about.

From Tocqueville. Recollections. Kindle 238.

Before long the political struggle will be restricted to those who have and those who have not: property will form the great field of battle and the principle political question will turn upon the more or less important modifications to be introduced into the rights of landlords. We shall then one again have once more among us great public agitations and great political parties.

On property: we tend to think of it as a solid part of solid objects. It started around the word proper. as what is appropriate to a man of rank to show his position in society. A social sign. “Are you dressed properly for the conference?” In the feudal or earlier world, no market for such things – sword, horse – were not sold – but inherited, captured, passed down. That such signs became property – what is proper – took a long time and now we are stuck. The Private in private property comes from the latin privatus, to remove from the public…





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