Value and utility in a historical perspective
Since value and utility are the highest profile abstractions that underlie an epoch’s intellectual climate and ethical principles, their evolution reflects the transformation of socioeconomic conditions and institutions. The “Classical Phase” flourished during the first global system, laissez-faire/metal money/zero multilateralism (GS1); the second, “Subjective/Utilitarian” phase marked the long transition to the current epoch of “Modern Subjectivism/General Equilibrium,” tied to the second and extant global system, mixed economy/minimum reserve banking/weak multilateralism (GS2). History has witnessed the material de-essentialization of value and substantialization of utility. But now the two concepts face a thorough transvaluation as the world’s combined demographic and economic expansion encounters ecological/physical limitations. An extended macrohistoric implosion may lead to a third form of global self-organization: two-level economy/maximum bank reserve money/strong multilateralism (GS3). If history unfolds along the suggested path, not only economics, but also thinking about economics would change. It would be considered an evolving hermeneutic of the human condition expressed through global-system-specific texts. The implied critical alteration, with the recognition of the entropy law’s importance as its focal point, matches the prediction of Swiss thinker Jean Gebser (1905-1973) about the impending mutation of human consciousness into its integral/arational structure. Such extrapolations form the context in which the fourth historical phase of value and utility is hypothesized, leading to the material re-essentialization of value and de-substantialization of utility.
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NBER Working Papers
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