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Against Mechanism: Methodology For An Evolutionary Economics


  • Schmid, A. Allan
  • Thompson, Paul B.


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Schmid, A. Allan & Thompson, Paul B., 1999. "Against Mechanism: Methodology For An Evolutionary Economics," Staff Papers 11691, Michigan State University, Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:midasp:11691

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    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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