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K. William Kapp's theory of social costs: A Luhmannian interpretation


  • Valentinov, Vladislav


In developing his famous theory of social costs, K. William Kapp claimed to draw inspiration from the theory of open systems. The present paper reconstructs the notion of social costs from the perspective of the Luhmannian theory of autopoietic social systems, an alternative systems-theoretic paradigm. According to Luhmann, these systems build up their internal complexity at the cost of lowering their sensitivity to the complexity of their environment, both societal and ecological. From the Luhmannian perspective, social costs can be understood as those segments of environmental feedback that are thus ignored by social systems. This perspective is not only consistent with Kapp's own vision of social costs as a systematic outcome of private business enterprise, but also even more radical as it traces these costs back to the regime of functional differentiation of society, and thus to human civilization generally. It follows from the Luhmannian perspective that social costs can be reduced by improving the coordination between the individual functional systems, such as economy, law, politics, and science.

Suggested Citation

  • Valentinov, Vladislav, 2014. "K. William Kapp's theory of social costs: A Luhmannian interpretation," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 97(C), pages 28-33.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:97:y:2014:i:c:p:28-33
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2013.10.014

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Kool, Richard, 2013. "Limits to Growth, environmental science and the nature of modern prophecy," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 85(C), pages 1-5.
    2. Admiraal, Jeroen F. & Wossink, Ada & de Groot, Wouter T. & de Snoo, Geert R., 2013. "More than total economic value: How to combine economic valuation of biodiversity with ecological resilience," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(C), pages 115-122.
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    8. Ingebrigtsen, Stig & Jakobsen, Ove, 2012. "Utopias and realism in ecological economics — Knowledge, understanding and improvisation," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(C), pages 84-90.
    9. Vladislav Valentinov, 2013. "Veblen and Instrumental Value: A Systems Theory Perspective," Journal of Economic Issues, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 47(3), pages 673-688.
    10. Berger, Sebastian, 2008. "K. William Kapp's theory of social costs and environmental policy: Towards political ecological economics," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(2), pages 244-252, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Vladislav Valentinov, 2017. "The Rawlsian Critique of Utilitarianism: A Luhmannian Interpretation," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 142(1), pages 25-35, April.
    2. Steven E. Wallis & Vladislav Valentinov, 2017. "A Limit to Our Thinking and Some Unanticipated Moral Consequences: A Science of Conceptual Systems Perspective with Some Potential Solutions," Systemic Practice and Action Research, Springer, vol. 30(2), pages 103-116, April.
    3. Alexander, David & Blum, Véronique, 2016. "Ecological economics: A Luhmannian analysis of integrated reporting," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 129(C), pages 241-251.
    4. Valentinov, Vladislav & Hielscher, Stefan & Pies, Ingo, 2015. "Nonprofit organizations, institutional economics, and systems thinking," Economic Systems, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 491-501.
    5. Vladislav Valentinov & Stefan Hielscher & Ingo Pies, 2016. "Emergence: A Systems Theory’s Challenge to Ethics," Systemic Practice and Action Research, Springer, vol. 29(6), pages 597-610, December.
    6. Balmann, Alfons & Valentinov, Vladislav, 2016. "Towards a Theory of Structural Change in Agriculture: Just Economics?," 149th Seminar, October 27-28, 2016, Rennes, France 246420, European Association of Agricultural Economists.
    7. Valentinov, Vladislav, 2015. "From equilibrium to autopoiesis: A Luhmannian reading of Veblenian evolutionary economics," Economic Systems, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 143-155.


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