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Economic Thought: History, Philosophy, and Methodology

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Sheila Dow, John King, John Latsis and Annalisa Rosselli (Editors)

Economic Thought, the online-based journal of the World Economics Association, is now in its fifth year of publication. It is a free open-access, open peer-review online journal, indexed by DOAJ, EconLit, RePEc and PhilPapers (links to EconLit and PhilPapers to go live shortly), available at We welcome paper submissions from scholars working in the history of economic thought, economic history, methodology of economics and philosophy of economics.

In line with the objectives of the World Economics Association, the journal seeks to support and advance interdisciplinary research that investigates the potential links between economics and other disciplines, as well as contributions that challenge the divide between normative and positive approaches. Contributions from outside the mainstream debates in the history and philosophy of economics are also encouraged. In particular, the journal seeks to promote research that draws on a broad range of cultural and intellectual traditions. We welcome articles addressing any aspects of these fields with an emphasis on original and path-breaking research.

We publish two issues each year – in March and September. Submitted papers that meet acceptable standards of professional quality are posted on the journal’s Open Peer Discussion Forum in order to solicit comments and discussion. Some papers are then selected for publication in the journal. Where there is a comment on any of these papers, which is an extended commentary and of sufficient quality, the editors may publish it alongside the relevant paper.

We are very pleased to announce the publication of Issue 5.1 (March 2016), with contents as follows:

Shahid Alam, ‘Commodities in Economics: Loving or Hating Complexity’

A review of economic thought since the sixteenth century reveals two streams of economic discourse, dirigisme and laissez-faire. Starting with the mercantilists, dirigiste approaches to economics embrace the real-world complexity of commodities that often differ greatly in attributes that are growth- and rent- augmenting. Most importantly, this means that free trade is likely to be polarising: it concentrates growth- and rent-augmenting commodities in countries that already enjoy a head start in these commodities. Advanced countries, therefore, support laissez-faire, while lagging countries tend to support dirigisme. In order to rationalise their laissez-faire stance, advanced countries began developing a new economic discourse that strips commodities of their complexity. The foundations for this ideological reconstruction of economics were first laid by Adam Smith; this process eventually reached its climax with the neoclassical economists who stripped commodities down to one attribute: their capital intensity. In opposition to this laissez-faire economics, other writers, supportive of the interests of lagging countries, brought complexity back into their economic discourse; they argued that lagging countries had a fighting chance of catching up to advanced economies only by indigenising a growing array of growth- and rent-augmenting commodities.

David Ellerman, ‘The Labour Theory of Property and Marginal Productivity Theory’

After Marx, dissenting economics almost always used ‘the labour theory’ as a theory of value. This paper develops a modern treatment of the alternative labour theory of property that is essentially the property theoretic application of the juridical principle of responsibility: impute legal responsibility in accordance with who was in fact responsible. To understand descriptively how assets and liabilities are appropriated in normal production, a ‘fundamental myth’ needs to be cleared away, and then the market mechanism of appropriation can be understood. On the normative side, neoclassical theory represents marginal productivity theory as showing that (a metaphorical version of) the imputation principle is satisfied (‘people get what they produce’) in competitive enterprises. Since that shows the moral commitment of neoclassical economics to the imputation principle, the labour theory of property is presented here as the actual non-metaphorical application of the imputation principle to property appropriation. The property-theoretic analysis at the firm level shows how the neoclassical (and much heterodox) analysis in terms of ‘distributive shares’ wholly misframed the basic questions. Finally, the paper shows how the imputation principle (modernised labour theory of property) is systematically violated in the present wage labour system of renting persons. The paper can be seen as taking up the recent challenge posed by Donald Katzner for a dialogue between neoclassical and heterodox microeconomics.

Jamie Morgan, ‘Power, Property, the Law, and the Corporation – a Commentary on David Ellerman’s paper: “The Labour Theory of Property and Marginal Productivity Theory”’

Asad Zaman, ‘The Methodology of Polanyi’s Great Transformation’

Polanyi’s book, The Great Transformation, provides an analysis of the emergence and significance of capitalist economic structures which differs radically from those currently universally taught in economic textbooks. This analysis is based on a methodological approach which is also radically different from existing methodologies for economics, and more generally social science. This methodology is used by Polanyi without explicit articulation. Our goal in this article is to articulate the methodology used in this book to bring out the several dimensions on which it differs from current approaches to social science. Among the key differences Polanyi provides substantial scope for human agency and capability to change the course of history. He also shows that the social, political and economic spheres of human existence are deeply interlinked and cannot be analysed in isolation, as current approaches assume.

Anne Mayhew, ‘A Commentary on Asad Zaman’s paper: “The Methodology of Polanyi’s Great Transformation”’

From: pp.7-8 of World Economics Association Newsletter 6(2), April 2016



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