Economics and Political Economy Today: Introduction to the Symposium on Fine and Milonakis

In: Historical Materialism
Author: Sam Ashman 1
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  • 1 University of Johannesburg

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Economics has long been the ‘dismal science’. The crisis in classical political economy at the end of the nineteenth century produced radically differing intellectual responses: Marx’s reconstitution of value theory on the basis of his dialectical method, the marginalists’ development of subjective value theory, and the historical school’s advocacy of inductive and historical reasoning. It is against this background that economics was established as a discrete academic discipline, consciously modelling itself on maths and physics and developing its focus on theorising exchange. This entailed extraordinary reductionism, with humans regarded as rational, self-interested actors, and class, society, history and ‘the social’ being excised from economic analysis. On the basis of this narrowing of its concerns, particularly from the 1980s onwards, economics has sought to expand its sphere of influence through a form of imperialism which seeks to apply mainstream economic approaches to other social sciences and sees economics as ‘the universal grammar of social science’. The implications of this shift are discussed in Ben Fine and Dimitris Milonakis’s two volumes, where they analyse the fate of the social, the political and the historical in economic thought, and assess the future for an inter-disciplinary critique of economic reason.

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  • 1.

    Carlyle 1849.

  • 3.

    Fullbrook (ed.) 2003; Lee 2007.

  • 4.

    For a different account, see Hodgson 2011.

  • 5.

    Milonakis and Fine 2009, p. 95.

  • 6.

    Louçã 1997.

  • 7.

    Blaug 2003.

  • 9.

    See the Preface to Fine and Milonakis 2009.

  • 10.

    Interestingly, as recognised by Coase 1978.

  • 11.

    Becker 1976.

  • 12.

    Fine and Milonakis 2009, p. 14.

  • 16.

    See Callinicos 2011.

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