Limits of Economic and Social Knowledge

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2013-11-21
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

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It might seem that contemporary economic theory offers a scientific account of choice among alternatives. Yet this is only superficially the case; the behavior of the agents in most economic models is completely specified by preference functions, technological possibilities, and market interactions. 'Choice' is a misnomer for solution of one or another kind of optimization problem in such models. The open-endedness that characterizes genuinely free choices made by real human beings is absent.

The book aims to show that (1) the deterministic vision embodied in conventional economic modeling is neither consistent with nor supported by the state of the art in mathematics, logic, and physical science; (2) use of models that rule out unpredictability and freedom of action has had negative consequences for policy design and implementation; and (3) restoring meaningful freedom to the agents is an essential first step toward making social theorizing more realistic and insightful.

Author Biography

Stephen J. DeCanio is Professor of Economics, Emeritus (University of California, Santa Barbara, USA). From 1986 to 1987 he served as a senior staff economist at the President's Council of Economic Advisers. He participated in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He has been a recipient of the Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought, as well as a 'Best of the Best' Stratospheric Ozone Protection Award from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction and Overview
2. Consequences of computational limits
3. Simulating Simple Societies
4. Economics and Natural Science
5. Economics, Behaviorism, and Utilitarianism
6. A Case Study and Cautionary Tale: Climate Policy
7. Politics and Governance
8. The Gift of Freedom

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