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In a providential account of the changing relation between political economy and economics, the late nineteenth-century development of economics is identified with the rational choice model; and the revival of political economy in the late twentieth century comes with the export of this model to politics and the other social sciences. An alternative prudential account locates the revival of political economy with a significant qualification to the rational choice model. This qualification restores an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century view of rule-following to human agency. This essay sets out these accounts and draws the conclusion that the choice of one over the other matters, not least for the practice of contemporary politics.
One interpretation of the evidence on how people actually behave is that they sometimes/often do not have well-defined preferences. Although this makes public policy based on preference satisfaction problematic, it does not count against policy intervention per se. This paper argues instead that it shifts the object of intervention to the rules that constrain and enable action (away from the outcomes arising from those actions). This is the constitutional approach to public policy. Drawing on the constitutional tradition in political theory that values individuals for their individuality, the paper develops an argument for a basic income and a constitutionally constrained tax system. The key feature of this system is its simplicity. This should appeal on behavioural grounds to anyone who is concerned with using the tax and benefit system in public policy and not just those who are persuaded by the argument here for the constitutional approach to public policy.
Uskali Mäki's brand of scientific realism is, in his words, “hermeneutically enlightened” (see Mäki 1990). This chapter is concerned with whether scientific realism can survive the embrace of hermeneutics. The potential cause for concern is easy to see. Once it is conceded that the social world comprises people who interpret their place in that world, it seems that the relation between theory and reality so changes that the very idea of “science” is liable to alter beyond recognition and even possibly disappear. In particular, when theories help structure people's interpretations, the theories help shape the reality of the social world rather than report on it. Thus what seems like a bit of “enlightenment” can quickly turn into the social construction of reality (i.e. the social destruction of Reality with a capital R); and from here it is but a familiar short step to a thoroughgoing relativism as “facts” spin into “fictions.”
I argue here against this concern over the descent into relativism. This is not because I side with the claims of relativism; rather I argue that hermeneutics is not the first step on the slippery relativist slope (and so I aim to lend succour to Mäki). While the hermeneutic turn may loosen reality's potential grip on theory, reality remains a source of friction. At the least, any theory concerning an aspect of the social world must be consistent with the fact that people are interpretative.