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Edited by Jan Peil and Irene van Staveren
Chapter 67: Social Economics
67 Social economics Mark A. Lutz Introduction ‘Social economics’, more than any other concept in the history of economics, has been subject to various meanings and interpretations for decades, even centuries. In addition, the North American meaning has tended to differ somewhat from the European ‘sozialoekonomie’ or ‘economie sociale’. Given the contemporary focus on the North American notion of the term – as articulated in and promoted by the Association of Social Economics and its principal journal, the Review of Social Economy – it is perhaps useful to briefly describe it as ‘a discipline studying the reciprocal relationship between economic science on the one hand and social philosophy, ethics and human dignity on the other’. Social economics sees itself as value-directed and social justice-driven, ameliorative, reconstructive, holistic and pluralistic. Before proceeding to review its history, it is appropriate to mention several alternative and often conflicting meanings of ‘social economics’. They were proposed by well-known mainstream economists who recognized social economics as a special field of inquiry. Among them, some understood the field as an essentially normative branch of economics, while others saw it in terms of positivism, as a richer description of how the economy works. Among the former is Leon Walras, whose celebrated Elements d’Economie Politiques Pure (1874) distinguished ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ economics from ‘social’ economics where the latter as ‘science morale’ deals in the name of social justice with the distribution of wealth, property and taxation. In that category, among other themes, we also find Walras’s famous proposal for the...
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