New book: Grivaux and Badiei, The Positive and the Normative in Economic Thought

Positive and normativeBy Mark D. White

Coming out in June from Routledge is a new book titled The Positive and the Normative in Economic Thought, edited by Agnès Grivaux and Sina Badiei:

The book responds to the need for greater clarity regarding the relationship between descriptive, evaluative and prescriptive approaches within positive and normative economics. It also analyses the entanglement between evaluative and prescriptive perspectives within several theoretical frameworks in normative economics such as social choice theory, the capability approach, behavioural welfare economics and various theories of justice.

It provides a forum for discussion between various schools of economic thought and several theoretical frameworks on the relationship between the study of facts, norms and values, with particular emphasis on classical political economy, the Marxian school of economics, the Frankfurt School, the Austrian school, the Chicago school, rational choice theory, expected utility theory, behavioural economics, experimental economics, development economics, welfare economics, public economics, constitutional political economy, the capability approach and politico-economic theories of justice.

Given the scope of questions treated in this book, it will be of interest to economists, historians of economic thought, political philosophers and philosophers of science, especially those interested in the philosophy and epistemology of economics.

The table of contents is very promising:

"The Positive and the Normative in Economic Thought: A Historical-Analytic Appraisal" (Sina Badiei and Agnès Grivaux)
"The Positive-Normative Distinction in the Classical Economic Methodology" (Michel S. Zouboulakis)
"Descriptions, Prescriptions and Norms: The Tripartite Classification of Economics by John Neville Keynes" (Gilles Campagnolo)
"Normative Economics and Its Enemies: Marx, Mises and Friedman" (Sina Badiei)
"Economics as a Normative Discipline: Value Disentanglement in an 'Objective' Economics" (John B. Davis)
"Realism and Deliberation in Normative Economics: The Fruitful Intellectual Dialogue Between James Buchanan and John Rawls" (Nathanaël Colin-Jaeger, Malte Dold, and Alexandre Gascoin)
"Normative Economics and Public Reason: Who Are the Addressees?" (Cyril Hédoin)
"Reconciling Normative and Behavioural Economics: The Problem That Cannot Be Solved" (Guilhem Lecouteux)
"The Unacknowledged Normative Content of Randomised Control Trials in Economics and Its Dangers" (Seán Mfundza Muller)
"The Positive, the Normative and the Marxian Heritage in the Early Frankfurt School" (Agnès Grivaux)
"Economics as Value-Laden Science: Lessons From the Philosophy of Science on the Normative/Positive Distinctions and Rational Choice Theory" (Magdalena Małecka)
"The Positive, the Normative and the Ontology of Social Problems" (Jesús Zamora-Bonilla)

Postdoctoral Fellow in Economic and Environmental Ethics at University of Gothenburg

GothenburgBy Mark D. White

Thanks to Christian Munthe, we have a fantastic announcement for postdocs in economic and environmental ethics at the University of Gothenburg. From the posting:

The University of Gothenburg tackles society’s challenges with diverse knowledge. 56 000 students and 6 600 employees make the university a large and inspiring place to work and study. Strong research and attractive study programmes attract scientists and students from around the world. With new knowledge and new perspectives, the University contributes to a better future.

The University of Gothenburg is looking to hire one or more 2-year post docs in the intersection of economic and environmental ethics. Economic ethics is the application of moral or political philosophy to critical issues in business organizations or the economic system. Environmental ethics is the application of moral or political philosophy to critical issues in the relationship between humans and non-human environmental systems. The research area should be understood broadly so as to include subtopics like business ethics, the political philosophy of financial markets, ethics of commodification, ethics of climate change, ethics of biodiversity, environmental philosophy and the philosophy of (environmental) economics. Any applications related to these subfields are welcome.

Potential research questions in these fields include the following:

    • What moral duties, if any, do commercial firms have to mitigate climate change?
    • Do consumers have a duty to invest in sustainable firms?
    • Is sustainability an irreducible moral value?
    • Can environmental values (such as biodiversity) be expressed in monetary terms?
    • Do advantaged nations have duties to promote sustainability in vulnerable nations?
    • Is the state justified in coercing financial markets towards sustainability?

The post doc will join the Financial Ethics Research Group which consists of philosophers and economists dedicated to ethical and political issues raised by the financial system (in the broadest sense). More specifically, the post doc will be connected to the research program Sustainable Finance Lab, which is a collaboration between several Swedish universities that is funded by Vinnova, Sweden’s innovation agency. Additional funding is due to the University of Gothenburg, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation, and the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (Mistra).

More details are available here.

Kwarciński and Turek, "Can Normative Economics Be Convincing without the Notion of Well-Being?"

Filozofia naukiBy Mark D. White

In the open-access special issue of the journal Filozofia Nauki (The Philosophy of Science) with the theme "Philosophy of Economics" (guest-edited by Łukasz Hardt and Marcin Poręba), Tomasz Kwarciński and Krzysztof M. Turek (Cracow University of Economics) ask the question, "Can Normative Economics Be Convincing without the Notion of Well-Being?"

From the abstract:

In this article, we examine the notion of well-being in light of the relationship between positive and normative economics. Having identified four interrelationships between possible theoretical developments within the two fields, we propose a framework for the analysis of normative economic theories. The starting point for these considerations were competing stances on well-being proposed by neoclassical welfare economics, Robert Sugden, Amartya Sen, and Daniel Hausman.

Near the end of their introduction, they preview their contributions:

First, if the development of positive economics is the main mode of resolving normative issues, then the category of well-being (especially when as specific as welfare) can be abandoned or replaced. Second, when the welfare approach in normative economics is replaced by an opportunity or capability approach, the question remains whether to accept normative minimalism, in the hope of resolving most normative issues through the development of positive economics, or on the contrary, accept a value-laden approach in normative economics. Third, if the category of well-being is to remain crucial in normative economics, a richer, normative account of that concept is required, since positive economics cannot solve normative problems by merely equating well-being with welfare.

Oisin Suttle on "The Puzzle of Competitive Fairness"

Ppe coverBy Mark D. White

Forthcoming in Politics, Philosophy & Economics but currently available online (and open access) is "The Puzzle of Competitive Fairness" by Oisin Suttle (Maynooth University), exploring common intuitions about the concept of fairness as it applies to markets. (I find this very welcome, as the vague use of this concept in economics was one of the frustrations that drew me into economics-and-ethics in the first place.)

From the abstract:

There is a sense of fairness that is distinctive of markets. This is fairness among economic competitors, competitive fairness. We regularly make judgments of competitive fairness about market participants, public policies and institutions. However, it is not clear to what these judgments refer, or what moral significance they have. This paper offers a rational reconstruction of competitive fairness in terms of non-domination. It first identifies competitive fairness as a distinctive claim, advanced within markets in turn characterized as antagonistic, instrumental and procedural. It distinguishes competitive fairness from a number of familiar ideals with which it might be confused: legitimate expectation, equality of opportunity, sporting fairness and economic efficiency. While many exponents likely assume competitive fairness can be explained in terms of one of these ideals, in each case there are significant objections to doing so. Instead, the paper argues that the most promising justification of competitive fairness is under the republican ideal of non-domination, which can reconstruct many of the intuitive judgments of competitive fairness that we make in particular cases. However, it concludes, this explanation makes it difficult for exponents to continue to emphasize competitive fairness, given diverse other risks of domination, and to other values, in markets.

Extra points for using Ronald Dworkin's methodology of fit and justification. From Suttle's introduction:

My method throughout is interpretive, in the sense advanced by Ronald Dworkin (Law's Empire: Ch. 2). We begin with a pre-theoretical account of a practice, identifying this inter alia through a number of paradigm instances. We next ask whether there is a principle or set of principles that could both explain and justify the practice, so conceived. To be successful, the required principles must both account for prominent features of the practice, and explain the value realized thereby. We can then return to our paradigm instances, and to any unclear or marginal cases, reassessing these based on our new, principled, understanding of the nature and function of the practice under examination.

Don Ross on economics' convergence with sociology (not psychology)

JemBy Mark D. White

Forthcoming in the Journal of Economic Methodology, currently available online (and open access), is a paper from Don Ross (University College Cork) titled "Economics Is Converging with Sociology but not with Psychology." The abstract is as follows:

The rise of behavioral economics since the 1980s led to richer mutual influence between economic and psychological theory and experimentation. However, as behavioral economics has become increasingly integrated into the main stream in economics, and as psychology has remained damagingly methodologically conservative, this convergence has recently gone into reverse. At the same time, growing appreciation among economists of the limitations of atomistic individualism, along with advantages in econometric modeling flexibility by comparison with psychometrics, is leading economists to become more pluralistic than psychologists about the ontology of behavioral causation and structures. This, combined with economists’ growing interest in network models, is drawing economists closer in theory and practice to sociologists who use quantitative or mixed methods.

He elaborates on the second page of the paper:

My talk about economists and sociologists becoming ‘partners’ should not be read as forecasting or advocating institutional amalgamation. I refer only to increasing interest in similar topics, with consequent convergence on some methodological elements because part of what drives methodological evolution in sciences are features of application targets. The pattern whereby, through the rise of behavioral economics after the 1980s, an array of concepts and experimental practices from psychology spread into mainstream economics, is my template here. The main claim I aim to defend is simply that that penetration has passed its high-water mark and gone into recession, but that we should now expect a period of enhanced conceptual and methodological seepage between economics and sociology. This predicts increased cross-citation across the disciplinary line, and increased frequency of both interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary collaborations. I do not predict that economics departments will start hiring sociologists, or vice-versa.

As always with Ross's work, this is an intriguing and provocative read, with copious references for those new to this line of thought.

New book: Hossein and Christabell, eds., Community Economies in the Global South

Hossein Christabell bookBy Mark D. White

Coming in April 2022 from Oxford University Press is Community Economies in the Global South, edited by Caroline Shenaz Hossein (University of Toronto Scarborough) and Christabell P.J. (Kerala University).

From the publisher's website:

People across the globe engage in social and solidarity economics to help themselves, their community, and society on their own terms.

Community Economies in the Global South examines how people who conscientiously organize rotating savings and credit associations (ROSCAs) bring positive changes to their own lives as well as others. ROSCAs are a long-established and well documented practice, especially those organized by women of colour. Members make regular deposits to a fund as a savings that is then given in whole or in part to each member in turn based on group economics. This book spotlights women in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia who organize and use these associations, composed of ordinary people belonging to similar class origins who decide jointly on the rules to suit the interests of their members. The case studies show how they vary greatly across countries in the Global South, demonstrating that ROSCAs are living proof that diverse community economies do exist and have been around for a very long time. The contributors recount stories of the self-help, activism, and perseverance of racialized people in order to push for ethical, community-focused business, and to hold onto local knowledge, grounded theory, and lived experience, reducing the need to rely on external funding as people find ways to finance sustainable, debt-free business ventures. The first collection on this topic edited by two women of colour with roots in the Global South, this volume is a rallying call to other scholar-activists to study and report on how racialized people come together, pool goods, and diversify business in the Global South.

I'm a little biased toward this one: Caroline is a dear friend of mine, and she edited a magnificent book for my social economics series at Palgrave, The Black Social Economy in the Americas: Exploring Diverse Community-Based Markets. (I also hope she will contribute to this blog before long, hint hint.)

Ethics for Economics and for Economists

Dolfsma-Negru bookGuest post by Wilfred Dolfsma and Ioana Negru

Comes the next economic crisis, comes the next call for economics to become both more realistic and to be more ethical. While the two are related, in The Ethical Formation of Economists (Dolfsma and Negru 2019) we focus on the vexing issue of the way in which ethics and economics relate: Why is the call not answered?

Many, especially heterodox economists, blame economic theory: It does not have conceptual space for ethics. This is a call for ethics in economics (Figure 1). That, in some way, is correct, but in a strict sense it is not: Only one form of ethics is consistent with (mainstream) economics, and that is utilitarianism. The call for economics to make conceptual space for ethics is a call for (one of) the other two broad perspectives in ethics to be given a place: deontology and communitarian ethics. Most of discussions on ethics and its consequences in mainstream economics are situated within the area of welfare economics, despite the ethical implications of most economic theories endorsed by various groups of economists. There is indeed a need for more of an ethics of economics (Figure 1).

What motivates the call for (more) ethics in economics is the seemingly lack of interest among economists for the consequences of either the economic vagaries that men go through as consequences of economic crises, or even the consequences of the advice given about economic policies provided by economists. The conclusion drawn from this by many is that economics ducks its ethical responsibilities: There is an ethics of economics that is denied (by economists) (Figure 1). Yacintas (2020) argues that economists do not display sufficient attention to the fact that economic ethics is part of scientific ethics also and these principles should be part of economist’s methodology and epistemology, to inform how economists build knowledge.

Indeed, there is a small group of economists that looks at the ethical stance that economists take: distinctly utilitarian and dismissive of people’s deontological rights or the ethical norms that emerge and develop in a community. Does economic theory as taught at colleges make economists selfish (i.e., considering utilitarian arguments only), or are selfish individuals drawn into economics? Or both? (Cf. Frank et al 1993.)

Dolfsma-Negru Figure 1

What this discussion does not touch upon is what is the key contribution of this volume of contributions: How are economists actually formed, ethically? How does an ethics of economists take shape? This obviously happens in class, but also later in their careers, for instance when doing research or when informing the larger audience about findings (through media, with their own specific working [cf. McCarthy and Dolfsma 2014]).

A related question is whether economists can be trained ethically or if learning ethics can take place naturally and in an evolutionary and behavioural way, influenced by the life and career pathways economists have? This is an essential question: In our book, DeMartino (2019) argues that the postgraduate curriculum must contain modules on ethics in economics, and McCloskey (2019) states that the ethical behaviour starts early on, in the education of children and young people, that can then evolve later in their careers.  

For us, the essential issue is whether economists can be trained, at all levels (undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral), in scientific ethical principles through various modules, such as courses on ethics in economics and economic policy-making, and also scientific ethics taught in courses in research methods. This will raise the awareness of thinking ethically when suggesting economic policies and the appropriate responsibility that comes with policy advice. Re-introducing courses of ethics in economics would be a progressive step towards training and forming ethical economists.


Dolfsma, W., and I. Negru, eds. (2019) The Ethical Formation of Economists. London and New York: Routledge.

DeMartino, G. (2019) "Training the Ethical Economist," in W. Dolfsma and I. Negru (eds) The Ethical Formation of Economists. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 7-23.

Frank, R.H., T. Gilovich, and D.T. Regan (1993) “Does Studying Economics Inhibit Cooperation?” Journal of Economic Perspectives 7: 159-171.

McCarthy, K.J., and W. Dolfsma (2014) "Neutral Media? Evidence of Media Bias, and Its Economic Impact.” Review of Social Economy 72: 42-54.

McCloskey, D.N. (2019) "Conclusion: Raising Up Private Max U," in W. Dolfsma and I. Negru (eds) The Ethical Formation of Economists. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 164-183.

Yacintas, A. (2020) "Why Is Economics Not Part of a System of Scientific Ethics? A Review Essay on Wilfred Dolfsma and Ioana Negru’s The Ethical Formation of Economists." The Journal of Philosophical Economics: Reflections on Economic and Social Issues XIII(2): 202-214.

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Wilfred Dolfsma: Wageningen University, Netherlands

Ioana Negru: University Lucian Blaga of Sibiu, Faculty of Economic Sciences, Sibiu, Romania

Forthcoming book: Laurent Dobuzinskis, Moral Discourse in the History of Economic Thought (Routledge)

Moral discourseBy Mark D. White

Out this summer from Routledge is Moral Discourse in the History of Economic Thought by Laurent Dobuzinskis (Simon Fraser University).

From the publisher's website:

Providing an account of the development of economic thought, this book explores the extent to which economic ideas are rooted in moral values.

Adopting an approach rooted in ‘pragmatism’, the work explores key questions which have been considered by economists since the classical political economists. These include: what degree of priority ought to be granted to property rights among all individual liberties; whether uncertainties in economic life justify investing political authorities with the power to stabilize business cycles; whether it is better to trust entrepreneurial initiatives to resolve societal dilemmas or to centralize policy-making in the hands of a benevolent government. The chapters argue that economic thought has evolved from an emphasis on "sympathy" (as defined by Adam Smith) and that there has more recently been a rediscovery of the significance of sympathy reinvented as "fair reciprocity" in the wake of the emergence of behavioural economics and its connection to evolutionary psychology.

This key book is of great interest to readers in the history of ideas, political and moral philosophy, and political economy.

Survey on the Ethics of "Environmental Markets" in Journal of Political Philosophy

J pol philBy Mark D. White

In the latest issue of the Journal of Political Philosophy (30/1, March  2022) is an open-access survey article by Stijn Neuteleers (Open University, The Netherlands) titled "Trading Nature: When Are Environmental Markets (Un)desirable?"

From the introduction:

This article will discuss two new environmental markets in particular: carbon markets and biodiversity offsetting. It has an applied and a general goal. The applied goal is straightforward: examining the respective moral desirability of these two markets. The broader goal is to use these two cases to review the main arguments for and against environmental markets and to offer more nuance in the debate. The cases are chosen in order to show that the positions at each end of the spectrum—that all new environmental markets are morally acceptable and that none of them is—are untenable. (p. 118)

In the conclusion, Neuteleers making an excellent point that applies to much more than environmental justice:

Sometimes nature has a value that cannot or should not be captured by market instruments. This special value can be either moral—for instance, the extreme rarity of certain species or ecosystems—or more socio-cultural—people can attach strong meanings to such nature (relational values). For instance, if families have worked in a certain natural environment for decades, these surroundings become part of their identity. Losing such a place can be a significant loss, at both an individual and a community level. In such cases, impersonal market norms conflict with the ‘personal’ nature of the goods at stake—here, nature becomes, in a sense, a ‘personal good’.

How should we deal with such special value? If nature is extremely valuable, either for ecological or socio-cultural reasons, it should be left untouched and not open for compensation. Regulations can take care of this, markets cannot. Nonetheless, sometimes destruction of nature can be unavoidable or acceptable. If so, the policy instrument should still recognize the special value nature has; the loss should be framed as a wrong rather than as a transaction. Such framing cannot be provided by the market. (p. 136)

Or by mainstream economics, for that matter (as seen as the discussion of crime in law and economics, for instance).