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Richard E. Wagner

This chapter starts by explaining that a universal feature of competition is its selection for excellence among competitors. This is a purely formal attribute of competition. Just what qualities are actually selected through competition depends on the contexts of competition, which are myriad in number. One can, for instance, be an excellent swimmer without being a terrific diver. Most of this chapter explains how democratic political processes select for different qualities than competitive processes organized through free and open markets.
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Richard E. Wagner

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Richard E. Wagner

This chapter explores some issues regarding the scholarly location of what is often described as the Virginia tradition in political economy. While the Virginia tradition originated during the neoclassical period and its widespread use of demonstrable reasoning, the home of the tradition resides in the classical tradition and its grounding in plausible reasoning. While the classical-neoclassical divide is commonly based on the explanation of prices and allocations, this is a sensible classificatory scheme only from within the neoclassical tradition. By contrast, scholarship within the spirit of Virginia political economy is more at home with the classical placement of the institutions of human governance and interaction into the analytical foreground, with prices and allocations being relegated to the background.
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Richard E. Wagner

This chapter contrasts two approaches to working with the compound noun “political economy.” The standard, additive framework treats polity and economy as distinct objects, and with polity intervening into economy to change its attributes. The alternative, entangled framework treats polity and economy as comprising a single system that is only partially decomposable into separate subsystems. This alternative framework leads into recognition that property rights are social relationships that continually are open to contestation. It also leads to recognition of the significance of different forms of the capital accounts of political enterprises.
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Richard E. Wagner

This chapter sets forth the framework to be developed and elaborated in the remaining chapters. For one thing, it is written from within a systems-theoretic orientation which differs from most economic theory in its treatment of the parts-to-whole relationship. This relationship plays out through treating political economy as entangled networks of interaction among political and economic entities, which among other things replaces the notion of political intervention into market activity with one of political participation inside market activity.
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Richard E. Wagner

This chapter explains that economizing action provides a universal form for pursuing social theorizing in a substantive manner. That people seek to replace options they value less highly with options they value more highly is a universal quality of human action. In only a subset of those actions, however, is there a direct connection between the action and the experienced outcome. The remaining actions are what Vilfredo Pareto described as non-logical actions, as illustrated by ideological sentiments of various sorts. Such non-logical action, however, has regularity about it and is subject to scientific examination.
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Richard E. Wagner

This chapter explains that the generally orderly quality of politically sponsored activities within a society necessarily bears a parasitical relationship to market activity. Within societies of even modest complexity, reasonable orderliness requires some degree of private property and the resulting generation of market prices which renders economic calculation possible. Politically sponsored enterprises likewise require market prices even if their operating logic requires them to modify and degrade some of those prices. The quality of the resulting parasitical interaction among differently constituted entities is the prime topic explored here.
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Richard E. Wagner

This chapter explains that collectively organized economic activity is transactional in nature, as those activities are instances of a generalized “art of the deal.” To be sure, transactions assembled with political participation are governed by different institutional arrangements from transactions among private entities. Market transactions are at base reducible to dyadic interactions. In contrast, political transactions are necessarily triadic. This difference in transactional structure generates a continual flow of societal tectonics of varying magnitudes, but which are baked into the cake, so to speak, all the same.
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Richard E. Wagner

This chapter ventures modestly into hortatory territory, in contrast to the explanatory focus of the preceding chapters. It treats political economy as a form of societal agriculture that lies between science and moral philosophy. As science it recognizes that societies exhibit law-like qualities that are open to discovery and articulation, but are not open to repeal. As moral philosophy, it seeks to bring that science to bear on uncovering the various terms of the Faustian bargain that the use of political power injects into societies.
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Richard E. Wagner