John Rogers Commons: Are His Insights Important in Teaching Modern Labor Economics?
John Commons' influence in American labor economics was eclipsed after World War II by a resurgent neoclassical labor economics that gradually relegated Commons' institutional orientation to the periphery of economic discourse. A common opinion is that the work of institutional economists in the Commons tradition was largely descriptive and lacked theoretical content. Commons, however, regarded his Institutional Economics as a work of economic theory. This paper contains a description of the theoretical core of Institutional Economics and an evaluation of it from the perspective of its potential usefulness in the teaching of modern labor economics. Part I describes the theoretical perspective of neoclassical economic theory in order to clarify the institutional perspective by contrast. Part II describes Commons’ alternative perspective. Part III presents the conclusions derived from this comparison of the two alternative perspectives.
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