Economic Theory and 'The Social Question;' Some Dialectics Regarding the Work-Dependency Relationship
33 Pages Posted: 14 Dec 2018
Date Written: December 14, 2018
This paper uses the 19th century concern with “the social question” as a vehicle to explore how the theories we use can shape, for better or for worse, our insights into our subjects of interest. Contemporary thinking mostly channels the social question into a focus on inequality in the distribution of income and wealth. This channeling is accomplished by taking individual incomes as data that reflect optimizing choices by individuals. The social question is accordingly resolved through redistribution from rich to poor. The alternative orientation pursued here recognizes that data on incomes are not given but rather emerge through social interactions that are only incompletely understood and only partly subject to collective control. While redistribution may well be a component of efforts to address the social question, the primary focus is placed on the institutional arrangements through which human capacities and moral orientations are generated. This focus follows from treating economics as a social science and not a theory of rational action writ large.
Keywords: the social question; wants vs. activities; raising vs. leveling; inequality as multi-dimensional; flourishing through co-production; mind-society bi-directionality
JEL Classification: B13, B31, B52, D63, Z13
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