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13 posts from October 2014


Call for papers: 15th World Congress of Social Economics [UPDATED]

15th World Congress of Social Economics

“Doing Social Economics”

Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, June 23-24, 2015


Social economics is the study of the ethical and social causes and consequences of economic behavior, institutions, organizations, theory, and policy. Social economists engage in many types of research, from explorations of the history and philosophy of economics to quantitative and qualitative examinations of contemporary economic life; and from historical studies of economic activity and institutions to recommendations for policy agendas. The practice and meaning of social economics is continuously defined and redefined by these diverse research agendas. The 15th World Congress in Social Economics will afford us the opportunity to take stock of who we are as social economists and how our work advances our values and principles.

We welcome proposals for individual papers and complete sessions—conceptual, applied, and empirical—related to the theme of the conference as well as all areas of social economics. Some topics for discussion might include:

  • What makes research in social economics distinct? 
  • How do social economists practice their craft?
  • What key concepts and/or theoretical constructs mark research by social economists?
  • How do social economists engage with economic life and economic policy? 
  • How do social economists provide insights on aspects of the economy that are often neglected by other economists?
  • What social economic principles should guide the construction of economic institutions and social practices? 
  • How does the history of social economics inform current work in the field? 
  • What are the different meanings of the terms “social economy” and “social economics” in North America, Europe, and elsewhere? 
  • What concepts, perspectives, and methodologies do social economists share with other schools of economic, philosophical, and political thought?  Is social economics pluralist?  Should it be?
  • What kinds of methodologies do social economists employ in their research?

Abstract Submissions

To submit a proposal, please visit the Association for Social Economics web site. (Note: the submissions page is NOW OPEN.) and upload an abstract of approximately 400 words. Please include the title of the session or paper, the authors’ names and institutional affiliations, and contact information in the form of an email address for the corresponding author.  At least one author of each paper presented at the World Congress must be a member of the Association for Social Economics. (To join, please visit this link.)

The submissions page will open in November. The deadline for submissions is WEDNESDAY, MARCH 31, 2015. You will be notified of our decision by April 15, 2015.  

Summer School in Social Economics

The Association for Social Economics announces an exciting Summer School workshop for graduate students and recent Ph.D.s. to be held in conjunction with the World Congress of Social Economics. Between 12-18 fellows will be selected to attend the Summer School as guests of ASE.  The Summer School begins the evening of June 21 and continues on June 22, 2015. Fellows accepted to the Summer School will receive complementary room and meals for the Summer School and the World Congress, complementary registration to the World Congress, plus all Summer School materials.

Accepted fellows must become members of ASE and submit a Summer School refundable deposit of $100 (that will be returned upon completion of the World Congress). All fellows must commit to participating in all sessions of the Summer School and to staying for the entire World Congress.

Elba Brown-Collier Best Student Paper Award

This award, sponsored by the Association for Social Economics (ASE), is presented at the World Congress for Social Economics to the author of the best paper by a graduate student on a topic in social economics, also demonstrating strong promise for future scholarly contributions. Professors (or others who have completed their graduate degrees) cannot be coauthors.

To be eligible for the award, the student author must register for the conference and present his/her paper. Please submit your paper proposal through the regular submission process described above, indicating that you wish it to be considered for the prize. Following notification of acceptance in March, the full paper should be submitted for consideration by May 20, 2015.  The status of each author must be clearly stipulated (MA student, PhD student, etc.) For consideration, the paper should be no longer than 8,000 words.

The Elba Brown-Collier Award Committee, composed of members of the Association for Social Economics, will adjudicate the submitted papers. The winner of the Elba Brown-Collier Best Student Paper Award for 2015 receives:

  • $400 USD
  • One year’s membership in ASE which includes subscriptions to Review of Social Economy and Forum for Social Economics.

World Congress Organizing Committee

Robert W. Dimand, Brock University

Mark D. White, College of Staten Island/CUNY

Ellen Mutari, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

Elba Brown-Collier, Association for Social Economics

Giuseppe Fontana, University of Leeds and University of Sannio


Call for papers: AFEE/ASE/URPE at EEA in Honor and Memory of Frederic S. Lee

AFEE/ASE/URPE Call for Papers/Proposals –In Honor and Memory of Frederic S. Lee

2015 Eastern Economic Association Annual Meeting, New York City, February 26-March 1.

AFEE/ASE/URPE are co-organizing special joint sessions at the 2015 Eastern Economic Association meetings in honor and memory of our friend and colleague Professor Frederic Lee. The meetings will be held in NYC, February 26-March 1 2015. We invite individual papers and complete sessions for these sessions. Fred Lee’s contributions to heterodox economics was vast, spanning from price theory, heterodox microeconomics, heterodox microfoundations of macroeconomics, history of heterodox economics, production theory, critical realism, and grounded theory.

The deadline for proposal submissions for these special sessions has been extended to November 21, 2014.

Please submit your paper or session proposal to Michael J. Murray (mmurray@bemidjistate.edu) and Robert Scott (rscott@monmouth.edu). Please indicate at time of submission that you would like your paper/session to be included in the Fred Lee special sessions.


Fred Lee, RIP

FredWe are very sad to report that our dear friend and colleague, Fred Lee, has passed away.

In the words of his longtime UMKC colleague John Henry, "It is with great sadness that I inform the ASE community that Fred Lee passed away last night. Given his deterioration over the last week, this was something of a welcome relief. The tentative date for his memorial service is November 8, but an announcement as to the details will be forthcoming."

A longer post of remembrance can be found here.


There Is Little Happiness to Be Found in Happiness-Based Policy (Mark D. White)

By Mark D. White

Governments around the world are starting to measure happiness (or subjective well-being) with the goal of a more humane process of policymaking. According to supporters, happiness-based policy will focus governments’ attention on what really matters to their citizens, their essential well-being, better than economic measures such as gross domestic product or national income that are too far removed from the day-to-day concerns of the people.

While the intentions may be good, the benefits of happiness-based policy are illusory at best and counterproductive at worst. There are fundamental problems with defining and measuring happiness, as well as implementing policy based on it, that prevent it from being a viable alternative to traditional policymaking based on GDP and other economic statistics.

First, the term “happiness” is notoriously difficult to define. Philosophers have tried to do this for centuries, identifying and detailing many types of happiness but arriving at no universal definition. Songwriters, poets, and novelists have done a better job describing happiness in all of its nuance and glory, but this does not provide a solid basis for measurement. For the most part, psychologists and economists who try to measure happiness do not worry about definitions, satisfied that “everyone knows what is,” but with no guarantee that everyone knows it to the be the same thing. Happiness is simply too vague a concept to define precisely enough for measurement without excluding what many people consider happiness to be to them.

Second, there is no straightforward way to translate an essentially qualitative and subjective feeling such as happiness into quantitative data. Most happiness surveys consist of questions about the respondents’ current state of happiness or satisfaction with their lives, which they answer on a numerical scale with the units labeled “very unhappy” to “very happy” or “the least satisfied I can imagine” to “the most satisfied I can imagine.” Even if the definition of happiness were clear, these labels are not. For instance, how a person interprets these labels depends critically on the experiences and circumstances of his or her life. A wealthy and successful CEO may feel she has not lived up to her potential, while the janitor in her building may be very pleased with his lot in life. Human beings have the ability to adapt to their life circumstances, which explains why people living in deplorable conditions may nonetheless report high levels of happiness and well-being. This also implies that the steps on the happiness scale are inherently subjective, nonuniform, and incomparable, rendering them unable to support the mathematical processes researchers need to perform on them to provide information for policymakers.

Finally, even if there were no problems with definition or measurement, happiness-based policymaking raises numerous ethical and political issues when it comes to implementation. For example, would the government target a growth rate for happiness? This is problematic in light of the “hedonic treadmill,” by which we work hard to achieve more happiness, only to adapt to that level and strive for more. In the end, we work more and more and end up with little increase in happiness, and the same would likely hold for official happiness “stimulus.” Another concern is the possibility of significant inequality of happiness: due to adaptation, the underprivileged may report levels of happiness that mask their circumstances while the affluent express dissatisfaction and boredom. Would we then redistribute resources from the poor who seem happy to the rich who don’t? Finally, people often give up some happiness now in exchange for more later, such as when they go to school or on a diet. How would government measures focused on the now take account of investments in the future? All of these are questions that policymakers will be forced to struggle with if they choose to base policy on measures of happiness.

Given the inherently vague, qualitative, and subjective nature of happiness, it is impossible to define and measure it well enough for the purpose of policymaking. This is not a simple matter of refining statistical techniques; the problems with happiness measurement are more fundamental than that.

There is, however, a better way. Instead of trying to determine what happiness is and how to measure it, the government can trust individuals to make choices in pursuit of their own interests. Instead of trying to boost the happiness of those doing fairly well, the government can devote its resources to alleviating the suffering of the poor. Instead of targeting the general level of happiness based on arbitrary definitions and inaccurate measurement, the government can address specific problems that their citizens tell them need to be addressed.

In short, the government does not need to define, measure, and evaluate happiness in order to find problems to address. There are enough problems facing the country that are readily apparent. Liberals, conservatives, and libertarians may disagree about the scale and scope of what government should do, but I think they would all agree that the government should deal with the problems at hand rather than invent new ways to find them. In the end, that may be the best way to make people happy.


1 me may 2014 sqMark D. White is chair and professor of the Department of Philosophy at the College of Staten Island/CUNY and currnetly serves as president of the Association for Social Economics. This post was originally published at Economics and Ethics and is reprinted with the permission of the author. It is based on his latest book, The Illusion of Well-Being: Economic Policymaking Based on Respect and Responsiveness (Palgrave) and an earlier article from the Review of Social Economy, "Can We—and Should We—Measure Well-Being?" He can also found on Twitter: @profmdwhite.


Levendis, "The Macroeconomic Consequences of Mixing Sunnis and Shias: A Bayesian Errors-in-Variables Approach"

ForumHow damaging is the Sunni/Shia split to the economies of Islamic countries? Is it better to be one or the other? Or is it better to have an even balance between the two? Answering these questions is complicated by the fact that the data are often missing or imprecisely measured. We employ the technique of Bayesian data augmentation to circumvent these two problems, and find that properly controlling for these features in the data leads to drastically different conclusions than what is found using ordinary least squares. We find that there is nothing in the differential nature of Sunni or Shia Islam to make one more economically prosperous than the other. Nor do we find any support for the popular hypothesis that Sunnis and Shias cannot mix.

John Levendis, "The Macroeconomic Consequences of Mixing Sunnis and Shias: A Bayesian Errors-in-Variables Approach." Forum for Social Economics, 43/3 (2014), pp. 254-274.


Caiani, Fumagalli & Lucarelli, "Contemporary Capitalism as a New Monetary Economy of Production: The Logic of Conventions, M&A, and LBOs"

ForumThe main changes of new capitalism concern mainly two spheres: the new technological paradigm and valorization process and the importance of finance. The main feature of the prevailing finance-led growth regime during the first decade of new millennium is then presented. In this perspective, particular attention is given to the analysis of the evolution and the logic characterizing mergers and acquisitions and leverage buyouts. After describing the main features of the contemporary accumulation paradigm, we therefore proceed to the reformulation of the schemes of monetary circuit by taking into account the structural changes induced by contemporary capitalism.

Alessandro Caiani, Andrea Fumagalli & Stefano Lucarelli, "Contemporary Capitalism as a New Monetary Economy of Production: The Logic of Conventions, M&A, and LBOs." Forum for Social Economics, 43/3 (2014), pp. 223-253.


Bresser-Pereira, "Inequality and the Phases of Capitalism"

ForumWe live in a capitalist world characterized by economic inequality. Inequality is a real curse, but it does not have to always increase. In different phases of capitalism, it may be increasing, constant, or decreasing, depending on the dominant type of technical progress (capital-using, capital-neutral, or capital-saving), on the organizational capacity of the workers, on the competition from other countries with lower wages, and on the prevailing degree of democracy. But distribution faces an economic constraint: the expected profit rate must remain attractive to business entrepreneurs. From the mid-twentieth century, we would expect technological progress to change from neutral to capital-saving, which would allow wages to increase at a faster rate than productivity. Indeed, this happened in the Golden Years of capitalism, but such progress stalled in the succeeding neoliberal years, dominated as they were by a class coalition of rentier capitalists and financiers.

Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira, "Inequality and the Phases of Capitalism." Forum for Social Economics, 43/3 (2014), pp. 199-222.


McCain, "Why Need is 'A Word We Cannot Do Without' in Economics"

ForumEconomists in the neoclassical tradition do their best to avoid using the word “need.” Social economists have traditionally been more open to discussions of need. Philosophic discussions of need are also scarce but nevertheless helpful. This essay will argue that need is “a word we cannot do without” in economics, and not only in social economics. Need is objective, satiable, and absolute, by contrast with want or preference as it is defined in neoclassical economics. With this clarification, 1) it is reasonable that public policy should consider need as well as want and aim to satisfy some needs, and 2) for some purposes, such as the economics of health care, conventional demand cannot be understood without the concept of need. Thus, even the narrower purposes of neoclassical economics cannot be achieved without clarifying and using the concept of need, in addition to the more usual motivational assumptions of neoclassical economics.

Roger A, McCain, "Why Need is 'A Word We Cannot Do Without' in Economics." Forum for Social Economics, 43/2 (2014), pp. 181-196.


From Piketty to Law and Political Economy

By Frank Pasquale

Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century continues to spur debate among economists. It has many lessons for attorneys, as well. But does law have something to offer in return? I make that case in my review of Capital, focusing on Piketty's call for a renewal of the social science of political economy. My review underscores the complexity of the relationship between law and social science. Legal academics import ideas from other fields, but also return the favor by informing those fields. Ideally, the process is dialectic, with lawyers and social scientists in dialogue.

At the conference Critiquing Cost-Benefit Analysis of Financial Regulation, I saw that process first hand back in May. We at the Association of Professors of Political Economy and the Law (APPEAL) are planning further events and projects to continue that dialogue.

I also saw a renewed synergy between law and social sciences at the Rethinking Economics conference last month. Economists inquired about bankruptcy law to better understand the roots of the financial crisis, and identified the limits that pension law places on certain types of investment strategies.

Some of the organizers of the conference recently took the argument in a new direction, focusing on the interaction between Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and campaign finance reform. "Leveling up" modes of campaign finance reform have often stalled because taxpayers balk at funding political campaigns. Given that private campaign funders' return on investment has been estimated at 22,000%, that seems an unwise concession to crony capitalism. So how do we get movement on the issue?

For MMT backers, the answer is relatively clear:

[M]oney is not a feature of our natural environment, but a social construct, mediated by law. . . . One profound implication of this view is that the common belief that the U.S. federal budget is constrained like a household budget is a myth. . . . The U.S. federal government does not need to tax or borrow in order to fund itself. Taxes accomplish many functions, but they do not “fund” federal government spending. . . .[For] the campaign finance reform community to increase its chances of victory in implementing its policies (especially those aimed at changing the initial distribution of economic power), it must provide a more truthful and accurate account of the relationship between governance and modern money. In order to win over skeptics, campaign finance reform advocates need to explain that neither the national fiscal position nor people’s checkbooks need suffer in order for a scheme like democracy vouchers to work. People need to hear that it is right and reasonable for them to ask that public money be put to work for public purpose.

We do see the unrestrained money-creating capacity of the government on display in endless rounds of "quantitative easing." The AIG trial reminds us that intervention can become extraordinarily fine-grained and manipulative. Modern monetary theorists seek to harness that power in favor of public purposes, such as infrastructure building, campaign finance, or other investments. And we should be under no illusion that they are trying to shift economics from a stable science to politicized ideology. Dominant paradigms of economics in general (and public finance and accounting in particular) are the site of constant struggle over values. Advocates of austerity push for "fair value accounting" and "dynamic scoring," for little discernible purpose other than upward wealth redistribution. If those committed to some baseline of infrastructure, health, and education fail to press back with our own theory of public finance, we will fail, both intellectually and strategically.

To return to my original, methodological concern: a renewed emphasis on a key legal insight (the government cannot default on debt it issues in its own currency) can lead to an adjustment to economic theory (MMT), which in turn informs a new legal proposal to get past the current, futile campaign finance reform debate. It's a movement from legal insight to economic insight back to legal insight, or L - E - L. Of course, any implementation of MMT-driven campaign finance reform will need to sidestep SCOTUS's AZ FECFCPAC v. Bennett strictures. But that will be a much easier task than, say, trying to impose limits on spending by wealthy candidates or corporations. Just as MMT gets us past the zero-sum logic of taxation and CBO scoring in fiscal policy generally, it transcends the usual "level playing field" or "equal influence" paradigm of campaign finance. The legal foundations of MMT make it both scientifically, and normatively, a better theory of our economic system than the dominant paradigms of monetary policy.


PasqualeFrank Pasquale is Professor of Law at the Francis King Carey School of Law, University of Maryland. His research addresses the challenges posed to information law by rapidly changing technology, particularly in the health care, internet, and finance industries. His book The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information (Harvard University Press, 2015) develops a social theory of reputation, search, and finance. He is also a prolific blogger, posting at both Balkanization and Concurring Opinions; this post is reprinted from the former with the permission of the author.


Pryor, "What Do the Elderly Do?"

ForumThe most direct way to find out what elderly Americans do is to study how they occupy their time and, if they are still in the labor force, in what occupations can they be found. This essay focuses on three key issues regarding the activities of those 65 and over: their average use of time in 41 different activities, especially how they employ the greater discretionary time available to them in comparison to younger adults; the factors underlying their rising participation in the labor in the first decade of the twenty-first century; and the occupations that elderly men and women are most likely to be found and how this has changed.

Frederic L. Pryor, "What Do the Elderly Do?Forum for Social Economics, 43/2 (2014), pp. 156-180.