The Elgar Companion to Social Economics, Second Edition
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The Elgar Companion to Social Economics, Second Edition

Edited by John B. Davis and Wilfred Dolfsma

Social economics is a dynamic and growing field that emphasizes the key roles social values play in the economy and economic life. This second edition of the Elgar Companion to Social Economics revises all chapters from the first edition, and adds important new chapters to reflect the expansion and development of social economics. The expert contributions explain a wide range of recent developments across different subject areas and topics in the field, mapping out possible directions of future social economic research. Social economics treats the economy and economics as embedded in a web of social and ethical relationships. It considers economics and ethics as essentially connected, and adds values such as justice, fairness, dignity, well-being, freedom, and equality to the standard emphasis on efficiency. This book will be a leading resource and guide to social economics for many years to come.
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Chapter 19: Social provisioning

Marilyn Power


In simple terms, a provisioning approach to economic analysis begins with a perspective on economic activity as the process of combining human labor power with nature to produce use values, a process that is, in the words of Karl Marx, ‘the everlasting Nature-imposed condition of human existence’ (Marx, 1867 [1967], p. 184). Since humans must combine their efforts in order to survive, these use values are sometimes utilized by the producer and sometimes offered in exchange for other necessary use values, creating the basis for economic institutions and what we would identify as an economy. Cultural values and related institutions, as well as historical events and geographic assets and limitations, combine to produce and reproduce human economic institutions in specific times and places. As Karl Polanyi pointed out, economic activity has always been culturally mediated; indeed, until the advent of capitalism as a dominant economic system, markets were not viewed as separate from the cultural life of communities (Polanyi, 1944 [1957], p. 43). The process of exchange of use values has been orchestrated over human history more by cultural norms than by markets or motives of gain – and even in societies dominated by market institutions, cultural values still intervene in judgments about ‘fair’ or ‘proper’ prices or wages, sometimes in demands for a living wage, but also at times to the detriment of groups who are assumed to need or deserve a lower value for their labor (Figart et al., 2002).

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