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The Life-Blind Structure of the Neoclassical Paradigm: A Critique of Bernard Hodgson's "Economics as a Moral Science"

John McMurtry
Journal of Business Ethics
Vol. 44, No. 4 (Jun., 2003), pp. 377-389
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25075044
Page Count: 13
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The Life-Blind Structure of the Neoclassical Paradigm: A Critique of Bernard Hodgson's "Economics as a Moral Science"
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Abstract

This paper achieves two general objectives. It first analyses Bernard Hodgson's "Economic As Moral Science" as a path-breaking internal critique of neo-classical economic theory, and it then demonstrates that the underlying neo-classical paradigm he presupposes suffers from a deeper-structural myopia than his standpoint recognizes. EMS mainly exposes the a priori moral prescriptions underlying orthodox consumer choice theory - namely, its classical utilitarian ground and four or, as argued here, five hidden universal categorical-ought prescriptions which the theory presupposes as instrumental imperatives: (1) comparability evaluations by all consumer judgements; (2) non-satiety of consumer desire; (3) consistency and transitivity of consumer preferences; (4) diminishing rate of marginal substitution by consumer choice; and (5) an unlimited aggregate growth of commodity production, or "the liberal growth ethic". The article argues that Hodgson's refutation of the neo-classical claims of "value neutral scientific method" is sound, that his bridging of the Humean reason-desire divide by the "rational review" of wants is resonantly demonstrated, and that his argument for conversion of an "a priori-cum-normative-cum-idealized" neoclassical theory into scientific status is logically plausible but morally abhorrent. The principal objection to Hodgson's magisterial exposé of neo-classical doctrine's moral a priorism is that the latter's normative presuppositions are profoundly deranged at a level that he himself assumes as given. In consequence, there is theoretical closure at three levels: (1) to the underlying "life economy" of non-priced and non-profit production and distribution of goods otherwise in short supply; (2) to the "civil commons" infrastructure sustaining these non-commodity systems of social and ecological production and distribution; and (3) to the systemic despoiling of both by monetized market mechanisms which are falsely assumed as the defining limits of "the economy".

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