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Economic Theories Cannot Be Understood Outside their Historical Context. Modern Economic Theory was born in 19th Century England. To understand it, we must know 19th Century European History, which shaped this theory. 

Lecture 15:

19th Century European Economic Ideas and History:

1.      Three Methodological Ideas:

“… the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong …” Ecclesiastes 9:11

In the late 19th century, a battle of methodologies (“Methodenstreit”) took place, which shaped the future of economics. The German Historical School lost out to the newly emergent, quantitative, mathematical and scientific approach. This led to a re-conceptualization of economics as a science similar to physics, which studies the economic laws of motion of societies. For a detailed account of this battle, and its effects, see “How Economics Forgot History,” by Geoffrey Hodgson.

1. Contemporary Methodology:[humans are predictable robots] The idea that economic theory is a science like physics has extremely unpleasant and counterintuitive consequences. We look for universal laws of economics, which apply equally well to Pakistan, France, Brazil, Russia and Nigeria. Furthermore, they apply equally well in the seventeenth, nineteenth, and twenty-first century. The trade theory of economists must apply equally to trade between Ghana and England, India and Pakistan, and the Huron and Iroquois tribes. Since the ability of human beings to shape their destiny in accordance with visions cannot be fit into a scientific framework, human behavior is reduced to that of a robotic pleasure machine, which follows precise mathematical laws.

2. Marxist Methodology:[social and political structures are determined by economic structures] A key element of Marxist methodology is that economic relations of production are fundamental. These determine the political and social superstructures. Marxist methodology is far richer than current methodology, which removes history, and human beings, from economics. Nonetheless, Marxist methodology gives primacy to materialistic conditions of productions, and considers society and politics as important secondary consequences.

3. (Polanyi’s Methodology):[material circumstance shape human societies, but also human vision and ideas shape material circumstances] Whereas conventional methodology restricts attention to the material circumstance, and Marx considers material circumstances as primary, Polanyi uses a bi-directional causality. Human ideas and visions can shape history, and conversely, the economic relation of production shape human ideas and visions. For more discussion of the radical implications of then entanglement of ideas and materials, see my post on "Meta-Theory and Pluralism in Polanyi's Methodology" in the WEA Pedagogy Blog. 

These are three distinctly different methodological principles.  In the rest of this lecture, we will look at nineteenth century European history through these three different colored glasses and see how they help us understand the economic, social and political changes which occurred during this period. Our goal will be to establish that “entanglement” occurs – that human ideas are both shaped by, and shape, history. In particular, economic theories are used by humans to understand historical experience, and also to guide social responses to this experience, and attempt to mold history in favorable directions. An extremely important consequence of this entanglements is that economic theories cannot be understood when detached from the historical context in which they were born. As Polanyi explains clearly, modern economic theories were produced in nineteenth century England, and to understand these theories, it is necessary to understand European history of that era.

Before proceeding to the complexities of European history, we will do a dry-run of the conceptual framework we are using within the simpler context of hunter-gatherer as well as feudal societies.

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Transcript of Video Lecture  53k v. 1 Jul 25, 2017, 5:32 PM Asad Zaman
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Lecture Summary 2000 Words by Mujahid Iqbal  21k v. 1 Jul 25, 2017, 5:31 PM Asad Zaman

Describes the co-development of economic institution and theories within the context o f19th Century Europe  Apr 24, 2017, 4:16 AM Asad Zaman

Only members of AZ-research group can access: Goto https://groups.google.com/d/forum/az-research-group to join group  Apr 24, 2017, 4:44 AM Asad Zaman