Journal Article

The economic problem of a community: ontological reflections inspired by the Socialist Calculation Debate

Diogo Lourenço and Mário Graça Moura

in Cambridge Journal of Economics

Volume 42, issue 1, pages 1-17
Published in print January 2018 | ISSN: 0309-166X
Published online July 2017 | e-ISSN: 1464-3545 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/cje/bex041
The economic problem of a community: ontological reflections inspired by the Socialist Calculation Debate

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  • History of Economic Thought (1925 onwards)
  • Economic Methodology

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Abstract

Implicitly, the Socialist Calculation Debate is about the connection between neoclassical theory and reality. It involves several ontological presuppositions, with wide-ranging implications. Our purpose is to discuss one of these presuppositions. We want to scrutinise the conception, implicit in the ‘market socialist’ arguments, that things have economic roles or functions independently of the social environment in which they exist. Primary factors and techniques of production are taken to exist independently of social arrangements; jointly with consumer preferences, they are supposed to define the economic problem of a community. In criticising this conception, we borrow from F. A. Hayek, complementing his reflections with those of Donald Davidson, Tony Lawson and others. We also discuss a second problem, which follows directly from the first: if, in contrast with the market socialists’ conception, the economic roles of things depend holistically on complex social processes, how can we compare alternative forms of economic organisation?

Keywords: Ontology; Socialist Calculation Debate; Economic roles; Counterfactuals

Journal Article.  9876 words. 

Subjects: History of Economic Thought (1925 onwards) ; Economic Methodology

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