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Against Mechanism: Methodology for an Evolutionary Economics


  • A. Allan Schmid
  • Paul Thompson


When the first economics departments were proposed at Cambridge and Oxford, the proponents thought acceptance would be improved if economics could be seen as incorporating the methods of physics. The enterprise was premised on the existence of economic laws that describe invariant relationships between events. These event regularities, like gravity, were not affected by human action. Humans could adapt and use them, but not change them. Thus the metaphor of "mechanism" seemed appropriate and became embedded in economists' language. It is common to use the term market mechanism to link prices and commodities. This suggests the economy is like turning a crank attached to a set of gears where there is a fixed relationship between the crank's motion and the last gear's motion. The gears have no ideas of their own, they don't get mad; there is no cognitive element between events and action.
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  • A. Allan Schmid & Paul Thompson, 1999. "Against Mechanism: Methodology for an Evolutionary Economics," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 81(5), pages 1160-1165.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:ajagec:v:81:y:1999:i:5:p:1160-1165

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Stephen Knack & Philip Keefer, 1997. "Does Social Capital Have an Economic Payoff? A Cross-Country Investigation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(4), pages 1251-1288.
    2. Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1987. "The Causes and Consequences of the Dependence of Quality on Price," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 25(1), pages 1-48, March.
    3. Arrow, Kenneth J, 1986. "Rationality of Self and Others in an Economic System," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 59(4), pages 385-399, October.
    4. Hausman, Daniel M., 1998. "Problems with Realism in Economics," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 14(02), pages 185-213, October.
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