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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: May 2013

9 - Thorstein Veblen and the Politics of Predatory Power

from Part Three - Veblen's Politics

Summary

Among Thorstein Veblen's most influential essays, one asks why economics is not an evolutionary science. Orthodox economics took market-based institutions to be natural, the expression of eternally rational principles of exchange. Their inherent logic of competition brought universal beneficence. Veblen's standpoint could not be more different. His economics is a study of the ceaseless evolution of institutions and industry, and beneficial outcomes are not assured. The material production of things useful to mankind, what Veblen called ‘industry', was acutely vulnerable to contamination by practices and habits of exploit, ‘the coercive utilization of man by man'. Reflecting qualitatively different patterns and norms of human action, industry and exploit are not easily separated in evolving social life. In complex human institutions, habits of production and of power remain inextricably connected. An economic theory that fails to grapple with the evolution of exploit masks the darker, ugly half of human experience. Veblen's work is a constant reminder that the right hand must be called to account for the activities of the left. A pretence to science is no excuse.

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