Economic Theory and Community Development


Howard Richards – TRANSCEND Media Service

Book Introduction with the assistance of Gavin Andersson. World Dignity Universiity Press, forthcoming.

22 Apr 2018 – One of several key theses of this book is the ethical principle: we should share the surplus. It is an ancient principle that in modern times the principal founder of economic theory, Adam Smith, took great pains to deny.  It is present in one form or another in most of the cultures homo sapiens has constructed.  It survives today in most religions.  It is, implicitly at least, a centrepiece of socialism and of responsible capitalism.  We do not think of ourselves as proposing a new idea, but as reviving an old one whose time is now returning.

Keynes famously advocated government spending and low interest rates as ways to bring unemployment down to tolerable levels.  When one removes and replaces some of the planks that Smith built into the foundations of economic theory, another way to accomplish the same objective becomes more eligible:  namely non-market employment.  Marx famously proposed, or at least famously implied, that unemployment, along with the private appropriation of the social surplus, would end if workers owned the means of production; while Oskar Lange, less famously, proposed that central planning could do the same things ideal markets would do if they existed.  History has not been kind to either proposal.[i]  But there are other options that consider not only who owns, but also what it means to own; and –as we will show in detail—how local communities can plan work and allocate resources with neither price signals from markets nor command signals from central authorities.  Moral realism, we hold, calls for junking altogether the notion that general equilibrium is an ideal to strive for, whether it is conceived as a liberal utopia or as a mathematically sophisticated communism.  South Africa –where most of this book is set—is famous for having a constitution drafted under the leadership of Nelson Mandela that guarantees more human rights than any other.   Its leaders appear to believe that the path to transforming human rights guarantees from broken promises to tangible realities is the path of economic growth.   Therefore, they labour to convince investors that there are profits to be made by undertaking new enterprises making new products for new markets in their country.  A better theory, we claim, opens eyes to the fact that there are many –not just one—better paths.  One of them is capturing more of the surplus generated by existing enterprises that are already well-established in existing market niches where they are already making profits.

Although we have telegraphed one of our theses in five italicized words, it is far from our intention to propose simple solutions to complex problems.  There is nothing simple or clear-cut about the technical calculations, political negotiations and practical judgments required to generate surplus, identify it, and put it to good use.  Scholars seeking clear answers to clear questions would be well-advised to study mathematics and to stay away from ethics and from history.

As an ethical proposition, ‘we should share the surplus’ is close to a tautology.  It can be read as a remark on how the word ‘needs’ functions in what Wittgenstein called ‘language games’ and in what Foucault called ‘discourse.’   If needs should be met, and if sharing the surplus means that those of us who have more than we need share with those of us who have less than they need, then prima facie and ceteris paribus, and with all other appropriate Latin hedges, then it follows that if we share the surplus, then what is happening is what should be happening.

The word surplus, as we employ it, brings into play concepts in economic theory, such as profit, rent and growth; and in management theory, such as slack, value chains, management by objectives, and mission; in psychology, such as empathy, hierarchy of needs, motivation and moral development; and in philosophy, such as justice and moral realism.[ii]   We invoke and discuss surplus –indeed we treat it as a central idea distinguishing our modern world-system built on the principle of accumulation of surplus from most others—with no hope of treating exhaustively these and other concepts in these and other fields.  Necessarily, this book is a very small part of a very large conversation.   We believe that it contributes to the larger conversation, some empirical and some theoretical connections at the intersection of economic theory, community development, and the future of livelihoods.  Apparently irreversible processes are making employment as it has existed during three centuries of capitalism increasingly harder to find, more precarious, and worse paid.[iii] Reality is challenging theory to remake itself.

This book examines an innovative public employment programme in South Africa called the Community Work Programme (CWP).

Exploring the same theoretical concepts and the same practical problems, it moves on to do comparative studies of public employment in India and in Sweden. It interweaves consideration of what is in fact being done in India and by CWP, and of what was attempted but subsequently abandoned in Sweden; with theoretical issues in economics and other fields. It will claim that Indian public employment and the Swedish attempt to make the government the employer of last resort collided with and for the most part were defeated by the 18th century basic social structure which – according to the view to be explained and advocated in this book – defines economics and has historically co-evolved with economics.[iv]

In the light of such historical, empirical, and conceptual considerations, the five words we should share the surplus might be rephrased in six words as economics will not work without community.[v]  Here ‘work’ means meeting human needs in harmony with the natural environment.

The claims of this book that economics is not community but in order to serve its purpose (meeting human needs in harmony with the biosphere) it needs community, would not be plausible on Lionel Robbins’ definition of economics as ‘the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.’[vi] It would not be plausible on Talcott Parsons’ definition of community as  ‘that collectivity the members of which share a common territorial area as their base of operations for daily activities. ‘[vii] These examples suggest that this book cannot even state its theses without examining the histories of, and establishing plausible ways of using, the key terms in which its theses are stated. Being a new contestant in contests that have been raging for centuries and for millennia, it cannot expect to rely, at least not entirely, on concepts previously honed by others.  It will try to avoid both being incomprehensible because it deviates without warning from standard usage, and being unreadable because it bogs down explaining too many of its deviations too much.

‘Economic theory’ can usefully be regarded as what the Irish philosopher W.B. Gallie called an ‘essentially contested concept. ‘[viii] When a concept is essentially contested, disagreement about its proper meaning can go on forever. People are aware that others disagree with them and proselytize to convert others to their way of defining and using the concept. To be able to say that the same concept is contested, as distinct from saying that the intellectually warring parties simply use different concepts, there must be what Gallie calls at least one ‘exemplar.’ All contestants acknowledge that the exemplar is a true and valid instance of the concept. In our case, in the unending whirl of controversy over what is and what is not an economic theory, all parties agree that Keynes’ General Theory is one. All parties agree that what John McKnight does is community development.[ix]

The overall methodological option of this book is the one chosen by Catherine Hoppers and Howard Richards in Rethinking Thinking.[x]  Remembering Mikhail Bakhtin, and building on John Searle’s concept of ‘speech acts,’ its principle is: ‘when writing, or speaking, do the best you can to perform responsible speech acts.[xi] Trying to be responsible, its pages will include methodological discussions explaining where the book is going and why. Some of the stars of the method show will be historically created social structures, tautologies, near-tautologies, accounting identities, and Heideggerian seeing as.

Roland Barthes is among the worriers who worry about how hard it is to be responsible.  He can be read as asserting:

  • When society is through and through dysfunctional, then the established meanings that constitute and regulate its institutions must be dysfunctional too.
  • There are no untainted words. There is no platform outside society to stand on to criticize society. Meanings, like everything else that is social, are produced by history and serve the social systems history has produced.

If points like the ones just briefly attributed to Barthes[xii] apply anywhere, they apply to economics. In economics, if anywhere, it is common to suspect that power dominates truth, that money buys truth, that the historically created lenses of method create the objects seen,[xiii] and that ever-more-sophisticated mendacities are making truth ever-more-unrecognizable even for those who may have the good fortune to encounter it. Economics is, if anything is, one of the human sciences where Foucault has taught us to expect not the sort of hard truth that even he agreed could be found in the natural sciences, but instead never-ending-layer on never-ending-layer of dispositifs du pouvoir (power devices).[xiv]

This book will take large notice of three points that balance sceptical insights like those just discussed. It will incorporate them into a realist perspective:

  1. Although society (and therefore language) is in many ways dysfunctional, society (and therefore language) is also functional. Babies do get their diapers changed and their bottles of formula to suck; water does come out of taps when faucets are turned; souls do yearn to be good and to do the right thing; there are happy families…. Society (and consequently language) do They must learn to work better.
  2. Truth is not an obsolete idea. The view that truth is the correspondence of ideas with facts, adaequatio rei et intellectus (the intellect of the knower must be adequate to the thing known), can be defended today.[xv]
  3. A metaphor like ‘there is no platform outside society to stand on to criticize society’ should be balanced by ‘there is something outside society and it is nature, and when society’s laws conflict with nature’s laws, nature wins.’

This last point – that there is a natural reality that social reality depends on and must conform to – segues into expressing appreciation for Roy Bhaskar’s efforts to, as he puts it, ‘reclaim reality.’ His early works that first articulated the contemporary school of thought known as critical realism, A Realist Theory of Science and The Possibility of Naturalism are foundational for what we do here.   We try to implement Bhaskar’s suggestion that social structures be treated as social science mechanism-analogues of the structural generative mechanisms (also called causal powers) found in nature.[xvi] For the most part – with the exception of Chapter Six, and with the exception Bhaskar’s contributions toward the end of this Introduction – this book takes it for granted that when what Gustavo Marques calls ‘mainstream philosophy of economics’ (MPE)[xvii] asserts or assumes that economics should conform to a positivist ideal of an exact science, it is intellectually out of date. It seems to us, although of course we may be wrong, that if scholars holding such views continue to control high prestige journals, to be appointed to influential university chairs, and to receive lucrative research grants, it is not because their views are intellectually defensible today, but because they are beneficiaries of entrenched institutional power.[xviii] We will not refute broadly positivist and/or empiricist approaches to philosophy of science again, when it is clear to us that they have already been refuted by Bhaskar and others.

Bhaskar’s early contributions inform our thought even when we do not use his language. For example, our version of moral realism speaks more Abraham Maslow’s language of meeting needs and less Bhaskar’s and Habermas’s language of emancipation. But variations in language need not imply disagreement, for reasons Bhaskar brilliantly articulates. On Bhaskar’s account intransitive objects of any science exist and act independently of their descriptions. To take a different example that also refers to Jürgen Habermas: Habermas, in several of his contributions, argues that the moral growth of human beings happens mainly in face-to-face encounters on a human scale, in what he and others call the life-world (Lebenswelt). We affirm community development. But we do not think of ourselves as disagreeing with Habermas. We think of ourselves as affirming the importance of the life-world for moral growth under a different description. We agree with Bhaskar that the same reality (natural or social) can go on saving us or killing us independently of how we describe it.

Bhaskar’s philosophy is active whenever in these pages people are criticized explicitly or implicitly for forgetting the point and purpose of the game while playing the game; for forgetting that use value (what Adam Smith called providing the  ‘wants and conveniences of life ‘) is the point and purpose of exchange value; for sanctioning what Amartya Sen calls  ‘pointless growth’; or for insinuating that a Pareto optimum (Pareto optimality) or being on a Pareto frontier is an ethical criterion identifying what ought to be done. For us ‘meeting human needs in harmony with the natural environment’ is an ethical criterion identifying what ought to be done. Its claim to be a natural ethical criterion or a real ethical criterion, as distinct from what Pierre Bourdieu calls an arbitraire culturel, draws strength from what Bhaskar did and called  ‘reclaiming reality. ‘In Bhaskar’s writings as in this book and as in Tony Lawson’s project for reorienting economics,[xix] a realist theory of science goes together with moral realism. Conversely, the subjective theories of value of mainstream economics, which tend as in Paul Samuelson’s writings to identify value with revealed preferences, or with what buyers are willing to pay, or with prices, go together with empiricist tendencies to separate ‘is’ from ‘ought’ in ways that deny that values can be justified by citing human needs.

Let it be noted at the outset that in this book moral realism is proposed as a worldview that cooperates rather than competes with existing schools of ethical thought and existing moral codes and moral sentiments.  Starting from Emile Durkheim’s observation that every human group generates moral rules, because it cannot physically survive without them, and from Aristotle’s observation that it is unwise to change laws frequently because respect for law depends on the force of habit, our version of moral realism proposes to work with rather than against existing and functioning normative sentiments and discourses.[xx]

Before extracting a few main points from Bhaskar’s early works, and before introducing the ‘social structure’ approach to economics that this book builds on them, let us take a paragraph to recap in different words the argument so far. Starting a book by recommending sharing the surplus is a signal that its conclusions will be revolutionary. It is a signal to conservatives to sound the alarm. When one person’s need implies the duty of a second person to share the surplus he or she does not need, can the Gulag Archipelago be far behind? From here on, it is farther into the jungle and deeper into the bog. Countless authors left right and centre have weighed in on liberty (allegedly incompatible with a duty to share), equality and fraternity (allegedly requiring a duty to share), on natural rights, on tyranny, and on other essentially contested concepts of the 18th century pantheon; all the socialisms and all the capitalisms and all the theologies crowd on the table round, each making claims about facts and values and demanding to be discussed; wars are fought and martyrs die … In the midst of endless ideological controversies sparked by a simple request to the overfed to share with the underfed, one yearns to ask, as Rene Descartes asked in the 17th century, ‘What can be known with certainty? What is the bedrock foundation for science and for ethics? ‘What method can sort the wheat from the chaff? But that was then.

The argument of this Introduction skipped all the reasons why Descartes is now out of fashion[xxi] and instead proceeded directly to a contemporary path out of the jungle and up from the bog:  speech acts. For those souls who are trying to be good and to do the right thing, the call of duty is a call to perform responsible speech acts. But wait. Next, citing Bhaskar, the argument takes a new twist. All human action, including speech acts ‘…presuppose the prior existence of social forms.’[xxii] Now, at this new step in the argument, one can imagine and fear a world where the pre-existing social forms limit human action (including speech acts) to moves in games that can only reproduce dysfunctional human relationships to each other and to the earth. On the other hand, our modern societies do function; they are not monolithic; and there is a judge outside society whose verdicts do not depend on the rules of language-games or on any social forms, namely nature.

In A Realist Theory of Science[xxiii] Bhaskar shows that empiricism (which is criticized by critical realists as ‘actualism’ or ‘irrealism’) misunderstands causal laws. It mistakenly identifies causal laws with their empirical grounds. Thus, David Hume identified causality, to the extent that he believed in it at all, with the constant conjunction of observed events. John Stuart Mill in his Logic articulated five canons of induction (method of difference, method of agreement, joint method of agreement and difference, method of concomitant variation, method of residue) all designed to find causality in patterns of observed events. More recently Carl Hempel identified explanation and prediction in science with the application of covering laws that (as in Hume) codify the constant conjunction of one type of observed event with another type of observed event. Bhaskar argues that outside of astronomy the constant conjunctions that empiricists mistakenly identify with causes occur mainly in meticulously controlled laboratory experiments contrived by human beings. The empiricist is therefore locked on the horns of a dilemma. One horn of the dilemma is the absurdity that the laws of nature are created by human beings when they create the artificial conditions under which constant conjunctions occur. The other horn of the dilemma is the truth: Experiments enable scientists to identify the mode of operation of natural structures they do not produce. The natural structures are the generative mechanisms that produce the observed events. A real distinction between the objects of experimental investigation, such as causal laws, and patterns of events, is thus a condition of intelligibility of experimental activity.[xxiv]

It will be argued in this book that social structures, together with human actions (including speech acts) and the natural structures (ecology) in which human cultures[xxv] are embedded, produce observed events. This book’s argument will sometimes place in the foreground the observed effects called unemployment, precarious employment and low wages.

Roy Bhaskar has shown that human beings are not condemned to go on and on talking to each other in terms they themselves define while behaving in dysfunctional ways until finally they destroy the biosphere. Science (real science, not the empiricist philosophies that misrepresent it) teaches human beings things about nature that they did not already know and did not make up.

Tony Lawson has shown that Bhaskar’s philosophy of science implies that what most mainstream economists do most of the time is bogus.[xxvi] What most mainstream economists do most of the time is mathematical modelling. In its simplest form, it is y = f(x). If you put into the model the value of the independent variable x, you get out of the model the value of the dependent variable y. Both x and y measure observed events. Such a constant relationship could only hold in a closed system where all factors that impact on y could be controlled for. Even in such a closed system, and even in attempts to simulate closed systems through random sampling, double-blind experimental designs, assumptions about normal distributions and the like, the ‘factors’ or ‘variables’ (i.e. the patterns of events) are not the natural or social structures or human actions (not the causal powers) that generate the phenomena observed.

Bhaskar wrote a sequel to A Realist Theory of Science called The Possibility of Naturalism. In it he extended his analysis to the social sciences. The main point – or at least the main point seized upon here – has already been foreshadowed above, although its foreshadowers were not Bhaskar. The main point is that the principal object of study of sociology is not human actions. It is the social relations that pre-exist human actions and make them possible. Its foreshadowers were Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault. They arrived at similar ideas treading different trails. Barthes was discouraged by the corruption of language. No word is clean; no word is honest. All words have been soiled by having been pressed at one time or another into the service of the system. Foucault in his doctoral dissertation showed how insanity, the concept of insanity, and the profession of psychiatry charged with treating the insane could only come into existence when the historical conditions of their possibility had come into existence.[xxvii] In a similar vein, the philosophically inclined first president of Tanzania after independence, Julius Nyerere, wrote (recasting his words in the idiom of Foucault) that the historical conditions of the possibility of unemployment came to Africa when Africa was conquered by Europe.[xxviii] Swahili had no word for unemployment. There was no use for such a word in African cultures (or, if you prefer, in African social structures). There was nothing for such a word to name. Alfred Marshall made a similar point too. In the first chapter of his Principles, he explains that economics is a young science because it could not possibly have come into existence prior to the coming into existence of its object of study, modern economic society.[xxix] From time to time, in his book, Marshall mentions that there were (at the time when he wrote) parts of Great Britain where old customs still prevailed. The modern mentality that the science of economics presupposes (and, this book adds, as a matter of history played a big role in creating) did not yet exist there.

The pre-existing social relations, concatenated in social structures that co-produce events do not produce constant conjunctions. In the social sciences, as in the natural sciences, in open systems the causal powers that generate observed events generate them only, as Keynes frequently writes, ceteris paribus. By definition in an open system, and especially in an open system where natural structures and intentional human actions share the stage with social structures, cet. is not par. The causal powers of social structures manifest themselves as tendencies, not fundamentally as mathematical functions linking classes of observed events to other classes of observed events. This does not preclude the possibility that fairly constant empirically observed regularities may be found to exist (like the original Phillips curve linking wages and unemployment).[xxx] It does preclude identifying fairly constant or statistically significant regularities with the causal powers that produce them.[xxxi]

This book will patiently work its way through accounts of creative practical experiences in coping with unemployment, often in great detail, while criticizing how the problems and the solutions are misidentified when they are seen through the lenses of mainstream economics. It will add to the many alternative approaches to economics on offer one that regards the constitutive rules of markets as the basic social structure (in some contexts called the basic cultural structure) of modern society; regards economics as the science of modernity; and regards community development as a healing medicine to be prescribed to cure modernity’s ills. It coincides with Friedrich van Hayek in placing more faith in analysing the consequences of the rules of the game that organize modern society than in attempting to construct a simulacrum of astronomy.[xxxii] In his Nobel Lecture The Pretence of Knowledge, Hayek wrote: ‘…an almost exclusive concentration on quantitatively measurable surface phenomena has produced a policy which has made matters worse. ‘And: ‘If we know the rules of the different games we shall, in watching one, very soon know which game is being played and what kinds of actions we can expect and what kind not. But our capacity to predict will be confined to such general characteristics of the events to be expected and not include the capacity of predicting particular individual events. ‘[xxxiii]

Anticipating concepts whose development will be interwoven with facts on the ground in the following chapters, social structure can be defined as material relations among social positions.[xxxiv] The positions (for example the position of buyer and the position of seller) are internally related to each other (for example a seller can only be a seller if there is a buyer).[xxxv] Social structures are established by constitutive rules.[xxxvi] (For example, the rules that constitute the language game of buying and selling; similarly, the rules of chess constitute i.e. create, the game of chess.) Constitutive rules assign social status. (For example, the status of owner to the seller, and then to the buyer; the status of money to bits of paper).[xxxvii]

A social structure is called ‘basic’ if it governs the provision of the basic necessities of life, such as food.[xxxviii] For example, property ownership, buying and selling, and money are basic in modern society. Amartya Sen illustrated this in his study of famines. In each famine Sen studied, there was food available, but poor people starved. Since they had no money to buy food they were not legally entitled to eat.[xxxix] Basic social structures usually have the force of law, as in the preceding examples.

‘Accumulation’ can be regarded as the linchpin of the basic social structure of modern society. It is the normal outcome of causal powers of earlier forms of market exchange that tend to produce a system driven by capital accumulation. They tend to produce it, and in fact they have produced it. This can be seen by looking briefly at Marx’s account of how one form of exchange leads to another.

The opening chapters of Marx’s Capital are written as a timeless allegory of the metamorphosis of forms of value from the original labour form to selling in order to buy (taking a chicken to the fair to sell it and buy grain to take home and eat) to buying in order to sell (buying grain to sell it later when its price goes up) to buying in order to produce in order to sell (buying labour-power and other inputs, using them to produce commodities, selling the commodities) to buying for the purpose of producing for the purpose of selling for profit (where calculating expected profit from production is from the get-go the logic guiding and the dynamic motivating buying) to ‘accumulate accumulate this is Moses and the prophets!’ Profit is re-invested over and over for the sake of more and more profit in an endless cycle of accumulation. Elsewhere Marx anticipates the further stage of financialization dominated by what he calls ‘fictitious capital.’[xl] Although Marx’s text is written as a timeless account of how the logic of exchange moves from simpler to more complex forms, it describes what tends to happen in history.

When tribal societies move away from living by hunting and gathering, by pastoralism, or by some other old form of culturally organized wresting of livelihoods from nature, and move toward living more and more by buying and selling; over time, the further stages of the metamorphosis Marx describes tend to occur and to take control. Adam Smith[xli] and others add the important point that the nations that become opulent by capital accumulation can field stronger armies and float stronger navies. One can deduce logically and observe empirically that military accumulation and economic accumulation tend to reinforce each other.

The outcome is the world as it is now. Or, to be a bit more modest, it is the contention of the authors of this book that describing the events we see in the world around us as to a large extent driven by profit-seeking is telling it like it is, and not telling it like it ain’t. Treating the basic social structure as a causal power, or as a set of causal powers, tending to drive history, leads to the idea that it is useful to describe society now as a regime of accumulation. That might mean describing the whole world as one society that is a regime of accumulation. It might mean describing each nation as one. Either way, the idea is that as history has turned out, it is now a physical necessity to keep the accumulation of capital going. Life depends on production. Production depends on profit. Therefore, life depends on profit. Ergo, life depends on the accumulation of capital. The dependence of life on accumulation implies that every feature of society – education, religion, art, sports, media, family, taxes, wages, police, courts, music, architecture, agriculture and so on and on – must be compatible with accumulation. That is what is meant by the concept of regime of accumulation.[xlii]  The basic structure of market exchange leads over time to populations physically depending on ongoing capital accumulation. Until the basic structure changes, then whenever one regime does not work anymore, then some other regime of accumulation must be established.

This is not to say that humans are motivated only by profit or that everything that happens in the world happens because of profit-seeking. It is to say that the dynamic of capital accumulation has become sufficiently important for the continuation of human life that keeping it going (insofar as it may be possible to do so) has become what Ellen Meiksins Wood calls a ‘systemic imperative.’[xliii] In this book this fact will sometimes be called a first Staggering Fact. The second Staggering Fact will be the Keynesian point that there tends to be a chronic insufficiency of effective demand. Both Staggering Facts will be seen as consequences of the basic social structure. When the two Staggering Facts of economic theory are seen in the light of exponentially increasing technological breakthroughs creating more abundance and fewer jobs, and when impending ecological catastrophe is added to the equation, the resulting appalling threat and the resulting golden opportunity motivate what this book advocates: alignment across sectors for the common good, community development, economies with multiple dynamics and logics, moderating the rigidity of the legal frame of the social structure, moral realism, sharing the surplus, and – to sum up all this and more in one phrase – ‘unbounded organization.’[xliv]


[i] Susan Woodward, Socialist Unemployment.  Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.  It would be arbitrary to cite one of the innumerable books on the failures of central planning, and dogmatic to do so without citing also literature on the benefits of planning well-conceived and well-implemented.

[ii] This is a signal that this book relies on the arguments of Roy Bhaskar, Tony Lawson and Andrew Collier in favour of moral realism. A case will be made for continuing to rely on the same arguments and additional arguments while preferring the phrase ‘ethical realism.’

[iii] See among many others: Guy Standing, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013; Jeremy Rifkin, The End of Work. New York: Putnam, 1995.

[iv] The account of Swedish experience in this book builds on the four chapters on Sweden in Howard Richards and Joanna Swanger, The Dilemmas of Social Democracies. Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006 (DSD)

[v] In sociology, this sort of claim goes back at least to Emile Durkheim’s assertion that capitalism does not create the social conditions it requires for its own functioning.

[vi] Lionel Robbins, Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science. London: Macmillan, 1935. p.16.

[vii] Talcott Parsons, The Social System. Glencoe IL: The Free Press, 1951. p. 91.

[viii] W. B. Gallie, Essentially Contested Concepts, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. New Series, Vol. 56 (1955 – 1956), pp. 167-198.

[ix] John McKnight and Peter Block, The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighbourhoods. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler, 2010;

[x] Catherine Hoppers and Howard Richards, Rethinking Thinking. Pretoria: University of South Africa, 2012.

[xi] John Searle, Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969.  See also the discussion of responsibility in the last chapter of Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom. New York: Knopf, 1999.

[xii] Roland Barthes, Sade, Fourier, Loyola. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1971. His insights are of course better appreciated when read at length in context.

[xiii] An example of the referents of this perhaps rather opaque phrase would be ‘utility,’ e.g. as in Milton Friedman and L.J. Savage, ‘The Expected-Utility Function and the Measurement of Utility,’ Journal of Political Economy. Vol.60, pp. 463-474.

[xiv] For example, Michel Foucault, La Volonté du Savoir. Paris: Gallimard, 1976.

[xv] John Searle, The Construction of Social Reality. New York: Free Press, 1995. Chapter 9.

[xvi] Roy Bhaskar, The Possibility of Naturalism. London: Routledge, Fourth Edition, 2014. p 37 of the Kindle Edition and implicitly passim.

[xvii] Gustavo Marques, A Philosophical Framework for Rethinking Theoretical Economics and Philosophy of Economics. London: World Economics Association, 2016. Marques quotes from an unpublished paper favouring exact economics in the positivist tradition by Nancy Cartwright at p. 54; he cites and disagrees with similar views throughout the book.

[xviii] See Tony Lawson, Essays on the Nature and State of Modern Economics. London: Routledge, 2015, especially chapter seven; Richard Crockett, Thinking the Unthinkable: Think Tanks and the Economic Counter-Revolution 1931-1983. London: Fontana Press, 1995; Fred Lee, A History of Heterodox Economics: Challenging the Mainstream in the Twentieth Century. London: Routledge, 2009.  Here we cite Lawson, Crockett, and Lee for the proposition that the winning doctrines in economics are often determined at least as much by institutional power as by intellectual merit –not for the proposition that the winners are always advocates of exact science in the positivist tradition.

[xix] Tony Lawson, Reorienting Economics. London: Routledge, 2003.

[xx] The chapters on Indonesia of DSD develop the idea of cultural resources. By analogy with natural resources, cultural resources are defined as capacities for cooperation.

[xxi] For accounts of some of them see Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979.

[xxii] Roy Bhaskar, The Possibility of Naturalism. London: Routledge, fourth edition 2015. P. 34.

[xxiii] Roy Bhaskar, A Realist Theory of Science. Leeds: Harvester Press, first edition 1975. Bhaskar builds on earlier work in the philosophy of science done by Rom Harré, Mary Hesse, Edward Madden and others.

[xxiv] This is a point Bhaskar makes at the beginning of his The Possibility of Naturalism (p. 9) where he summarizes his own earlier book A Realist Theory of Science.

[xxv] This sentence could be made more true, at the cost of becoming more complicated than it already is, by adding that the current epoch is the Anthropocene in which ecology itself has become decisively determined by human action.

[xxvi] Tony Lawson, Economics and Reality. London: Routledge, 1997; Tony Lawson, Essays on the Nature and State of Modern Economics. London : Routledge, 2015.

[xxvii] Michel Foucault, Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique. Paris: Gallimard, 1972.

[xxviii] Julius Nyerere, Ujamaa – Essays on Socialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968. Nyerere cites a Swahili proverb that says ‘for two days feed your guest, on the third day give him a hoe. ‘

[xxix] Alfred Marshall, Principles of Economics. London: Macmillan, 1890.  John Stuart Mill makes similar observations in his Principles of Political Economy. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1848.

[xxx] A. W. Phillips, ‘The Relationship Between Unemployment and the Rate of Change of Money Wage Rates in the United Kingdom, 1861-1957,’ Economica, New Series. Vol. 25 (1958), pp. 283-299.

[xxxi] In addition to the writings of Roy Bhaskar see Rom Harré and E.H. Madden, Causal Powers. Oxford: Blackwell, 1975.

[xxxii]  ‘Thus, the system of the economic universe reveals itself, at last, in all its grandeur and complexity, a system at once vast and simple, which, for sheer beauty, resembles the astronomic universe. ‘ Leon Walras (translation by William Jaffe) Elements of Pure Economics. London: Routledge, 2003. P. 374.


[xxxiv] Douglas Porpora, Reconstructing Sociology. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016. P. 98

[xxxv] Lawson, Reorienting Economics, pp. 227-28.

[xxxvi] Porpora, Cultural Rules and Material Relations, Sociological Theory. Vol. 11 (1993) pp. 212-229.

[xxxvii] John Searle, The Construction of Social Reality. New York: Free Press, 1995. Pages 43-51.

[xxxviii] This idea is developed in Howard Richards, Letters from Quebec. San Francisco and London: International Scholars Press, 1995. Somewhat similarly, Searle writes of  ‘basic facts. ‘ For Searle the basic facts are the facts of nature discovered by the natural sciences. For us the ‘basic’ social structure necessarily connects society with nature because it is the social structure that governs how and whether basic human needs are met.

[xxxix] Amartya Sen, Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981.


[xli] Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations. (many editions, first edition 1776).  At the very end of Book V, chapter one, part one.

[xlii] The concept was originally developed by the regulationist school of economists.  Michel Aglietta, Régulation et crises du capitalisme. Paris : Alternatives Économiques Poche, 2005. David Harvey used it to trace the comprehensive consequences of the transition from a Fordist/Keynesian regime of accumulation to a neoliberal one. The Condition of Postmodernity. op. cit.

[xliii] Ellen Meiksins Wood, Empire of Capital. London: Verso, 2003.

[xliv] Gavin Andersson and Howard Richards, Unbounded Organizing in Community. Lake Oswego, OR: World Dignity University Press, 2014; Gavin Andersson, Unbounded Organization: Embracing the Societal Enterprise (forthcoming).


Prof. Howard Richards is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. He was born in Pasadena, California but since 1966 has lived in Chile when not teaching in other places. Professor of Peace and Global Studies Emeritus, Earlham College, a school in Richmond Indiana affiliated with the Society of Friends (Quakers) known for its peace and social justice commitments. Stanford Law School, MA and PhD in Philosophy from UC Santa Barbara, Advanced Certificate in Education-Oxford,  PhD in Educational Planning from University of Toronto. Books:  Dilemmas of Social Democracies with Joanna Swanger, Gandhi and the Future of Economics with Joanna Swanger, The Nurturing of Time Future, Understanding the Global Economy (available as e-books), The Evaluation of Cultural Action (not an e book).  Hacia otras Economias with Raul Gonzalez, free download available at www.repensar.clSolidaridad, Participacion, Transparencia: conversaciones sobre el socialismo en Rosario, Argentina. Available free on the blogspot lahoradelaetica.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 30 Apr 2018.

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