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The Market as an Environment

  • Viskovatoff Alex

    (University of Pittsburgh)

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    More than perhaps any other major social theorist, Niklas Luhmann adopted a perspective on society at the opposite end of the atomistic-holistic spectrum to that of mainstream economics. While the position of mainstream economics is that society is nothing more than a collection of individuals, so that it can be understood simply in terms of those individuals and their interactions, Luhmann abstracts from individuals entirely, understanding social phenomena as being produced by society itself, with individuals playing a merely peripheral or “enabling” role. This radical reconceptualization of society and the relation of the individual to society allowed Luhmann to build from the ground up a highly systematic theory of society which allows one to formulate economic and social questions in new ways, freed from preconceptions that are poorly grounded or simply wrong. After providing a brief overview of Luhmann’s general social theory, this article considers two questions for which Luhmann’s theory can produce a fresh point of view. The first concerns what is the nature of markets. According to Luhmann, markets are not a kind of system (the common if tacit view), but collections of observations--the observations of market participants of other market participants. The second concerns the old question of what is the appropriate degree of intervention in the economy. Mainstream economics approaches this problem through the distinction between (free) markets and planning. According to Luhmann, this is a false dichotomy, since all economies have markets and planning. The real question is who should do the planning: private organizations or the state. The former operate on the basis of competition, that is, rivalry; the latter operates on the basis of cooperation. The problem with “socialist” or “centrally planned” economies was not that they were planned or centrally organized, since “free market” economies have planning and centralization too; it was that they relied solely on cooperation, with there being no space for competition. The paper concludes with some reflections on whether freemarket economies with minimal intervention by the state are any more sustainable than are “socialist” economies.Niklas Luhmann, peut-être plus que les autres auteurs en théorie sociale, a adopté une approche de la société qui est à l’opposé du spectre individualismeholisme des économistes orthodoxes. Alors que l’économie orthodoxe considère que la société n’est rien d’autre que la somme des individus et qu’elle ne peut être appréhendée qu’en termes d’individus et de leurs interactions, Luhmann fait totalement abstraction des individus et comprend les phénomènes sociaux comme étant produits par la société elle-même dans laquelle les individus jouent un rôle périphérique ou un rôle “d’habilitation”. Cette radicale reconceptualization de la société ainsi que la relation des individus à la société a permis à Luhmann de construire une théorie très méthodique de la société qui permet d’appréhender de façon différente les questions économiques et sociales, sans préreprésentations fragiles ou erronées. Après avoir donné un aperçu général de la théorie sociale de Luhmann, l’article considère deux questions pour lesquelles la théorie de Luhmann peut apporter un nouveau point de vue. La première traite de la nature des marchés. D’après Luhmann, les marchés ne sont pas une sorte de système (comme cela est souvent considéré) mais des sommes d’observations faites par les participants au marché sur les autres participants. La seconde question concerne l’éternel problème du degré d’interventionnisme dans l’économie. Les économistes orthodoxes abordent cette question à travers la distinction entre les marchés (libres) et la planification. D’après Luhmann cette dichotomie est erronée dans la mesure où toutes les économies connaissent à la fois le marché et la planification. La véritable question est: Qui devrait planifier: les organisations privées ou l’Etat?. Les premières agissent sur la base de la concurrence, i.e de la rivalité; l’Etat agit sur la base de la coopération. Le problème avec les économies “socialistes” ou “centralement planifiées” n’est pas qu’elles sont planifiées ou qu’elles relèvent d’une organisation centralisée puisque les économies de “marché libre” connaissent aussi la planification et la centralisation. Le problème vient du fait qu’elles reposent uniquement sur la coopération et n’accordent pas de place à la concurrence. Le papier conclut en s’interrogeant sur l’idée selon laquelle les économies de libre marché avec une intervention étatique minimale sont plus viables que les économies “socialistes”.

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    Article provided by De Gruyter in its journal Journal des Economistes et des Etudes Humaines.

    Volume (Year): 14 (2004)
    Issue (Month): 2 (December)
    Pages: 1-19

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    Handle: RePEc:bpj:jeehcn:v:14:y:2004:i:2:n:4
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