[PEN-L:10332] Re: Narrow economism

Craven, Jim jcraven at SPAMclark.edu
Tue Aug 24 15:10:39 MDT 1999

James Craven
Clark College, 1800 E. McLoughlin Blvd.
Vancouver, WA. 98663
(360) 992-2283; Fax: (360) 992-2863
blkfoot5 at earthlink.net
*My Employer Has No Association With My Private/Protected Opinion*

-----Original Message-----
From: Wojtek Sokolowski [mailto:sokol at jhu.edu]
Sent: Tuesday, August 24, 1999 8:25 AM
To: pen-l at galaxy.csuchico.edu
Subject: [PEN-L:10332] Re: Narrow economism

At 09:57 AM 8/23/99 -0700, Michael Perelman wrote:
>I want pen-l to be relevant to what goes on in the economy.  The banter
>and exchanges about cultural and political matters are useful.  They
>round out the list and make it more entertaining.
>On the other hand, I would like to see us create a body of knowledge
>that can be useful to activists and workers for social change.  For that
>reason, I welcomed the recent exchanges about the Asian crisis.

It seems to me that there is a "third way" between the Scylla of
culturalism and the harybdis of macro-economism: institutional analysis
that combines both cutural and economic aspects of collective behavior.
IMHO, however, pen-l does not seem to be flooded with institutional



I do an exercise in my classes related to institutions and institutional
thinking/approaches that you might find interesting. I start with Dave
Colander's definition of "institutions" in his Economics 3rd Edition (on
which I was a final reviewer/editor for technical content and pedagogy):

"An economic institution is a physical or mental structure that
significantly influences economic decisions." (p. 8)

I then ask, from that definition ALONE, can anyone give me examples of
"institutions". Usually no or little response. I then ask the class to give
me examples of institutions from common speech or common reference to
institutions. I usually get: institution of the family, institution of
marriage, institution of private property, someone has been
"institutionalized" (mental ward or prison), the College as an institution
etc. So we take three examples from common speech of supposed
"institutions"--e.g. marriage, family and private property and proceed to
dissect them and ask what do they have in common in terms of fundamental
properties and in terms of fundamental functions. We arrange three lists:

Properties         Functions          Why/Reasons

We note that in all three cases there are definite, commonly understood, yet
also dynamic, rules, laws (don't go to family reunions looking for a mate,
don't slip your grandmother the tongue when she gives you a gentle kiss,
don't locate your private-property-protected porn theater next to the old
grade school etc), constraints, privileges, rights, responsibilities, power
structures, rewards, symbols, traditions, myths, taboos, rituals etc etc.

Then we talk about what these three commonly-termed institutions have in
common in terms of what they do: socialize, regiment, constrain, teach,
reinforce, legitimate, de-legitimate, marginalize, demonize, define, reward,
punish, program, co-opt, condition, etc.

Then we talk about why: teach/reinforce dominant paradigms and ideas while
marginalizing/demonizing unpopular or "dangerous" paradigms and issues;
condition and make organized,predictable and controllable certain human
behaviors and interactions; proscribe/prescribe or limit "permissible" or
"acceptable" ideas, paradigms, issues and approaches;
legitimate/reinforce/consolidate/reproduce dominant power structures, ideas
and Weltanschauungs; enhance predictability and controllability of human
behaviors and intereactions so as to reduce risk, uncertainty and associated
information/transactions costs; enhance "social capital" and social cohesion
from the perspective of dominant groups; balance ultra-individualist
impulses and behaviors necessary for capitalism with imperatives for social
cohesion and prevention of ultra-individualism going to system-compromising
extremes; expanded reproduction of human, physical and social capital forms
and relations and capitalism as a whole; social systems engineering and
legitimation along with de-legitimation and marginalization/demonization of
systems deemed to be fundamentally antagonistic to capitalism; etc etc.

The students come up with these features, functions and reasons for them via
"Socratic" probing. Then then combined them to form a genralized definition
of institutions:

dynamic complexes of interrelated values, laws, rights, responsibilities,
constraints, power relations/structures, myths, traditions, taboos, symbols
etc that serve to structure human behaviors/interactions,
legitimate/de-legitimate, marginalize, demonize, teach, condition, brainwash
etc in order to reproduce the system and its fundamental features on an
expanded scale, marginalize/demonize designated enemies,
reinforce/legitimate dominant and "permissible" paradigms/issues etc, reduce
risk, uncertainty and associated costs, reproduce power structures/relations
on an expanded scale, create ongoing corps of functionaries, etc etc.

Jim C

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