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)

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.

Andreou on "Commitment and Resoluteness in Rational Choice" (Cambridge Elements)

Andreou  elementBy Mark D. White

Available for free download until February 18, 2022, is a new Cambridge Element from Chrisoula Andreou (University of Utah) titled Commitment and Resoluteness in Rational Choice. From her introduction:

Commitment is quite commonplace and, seemingly, quite significant, since it treats certain options as “off the table.” My commitment to teaching my class this morning requires me to close off or put aside the possibility of doing some weight training instead. And my commitment to certain healthy eating practices requires me to close off or put aside the possibility of bringing a box of Twinkies as my lunch. Still, it might seem like commitment is either redundant or irrational – redundant if the option committed to is (taking into account its consequences) preferred over the alternatives, and irrational if the option committed to is dispreferred. But, as will become apparent, there are scenarios in which the ability to commit to a dispreferred alternative is necessary to reap the benefits of cooperation or self-control. This Element focuses on the interaction between cooperation, commitment, and control. Drawing from and building on the existing literature, including my own prior work in this space, I guide the reader through the interesting, challenging, and evolving philosophical terrain where issues regarding cooperation, commitment, and control intersect, adding some new contributions along the way.

Chrisoula Andreou was also my co-editor on The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination, and her chapter from that book is just one of her many important contributions to this area.


New book: Heilmann and Reiss (eds), The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Economics

Routledge handbook of phil of econBy Mark D. White

Just released is The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Economics, edited by Conrad Heilmann and Julian Reiss. From the publisher's website:

The most fundamental questions of economics are often philosophical in nature, and philosophers have, since the very beginning of Western philosophy, asked many questions that current observers would identify as economic. The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Economics is an outstanding reference source for the key topics, problems, and debates at the intersection of philosophical and economic inquiry. It captures this field of countless exciting interconnections, affinities, and opportunities for cross-fertilization.

The table of contents is reproduced below—I was honored to be invited to contribute a chapter, which appears in Part IV.

1. Introduction  Conrad Heilmann and Julian Reiss

Part I: Rationality

2. History of Utility Theory  Ivan Moscati

3. The Economics and Philosophy of Risk  H. Orri Stefánsson

4. Behavioral Welfare Economics and Consumer Sovereignty  Guilhem Lecouteux

5. The Economic Concept of a Preference  Kate Vredenburgh

6. Economic Agency and the Subpersonal Turn in Economics  James D. Grayot

Part II: Cooperation and Interaction

7. Game Theory and Rational Reasoning  Jurgis Karpus and Mantas Radzvilas

8. Institutions, Rationality, and Coordination  Camilla Colombo and Francesco Guala

9. As If Social Preference Models  Jack Vromen

10. Exploitation and Consumption  Benjamin Ferguson

Part III: Methodology

11. Philosophy of Economics? Three Decades of Bibliometric History  Francois Claveau, Alexandre Truc, Olivier Santerre, and Luis Mireles-Flores

12. Philosophy of Austrian Economics  Alexander Linsbichler

13. Representation  Hsiang Ke-Chao

14. Finance and Financial Economics: A Philosophy of Science Perspective  Melissa Vergara-Fernández and Boudewijn de Bruin

Part IV: Values

15. Values in Welfare Economics  Antoinette Baujard

16. Measurement and Value Judgements  Julian Reiss

17. Reflections on the State of Economics and Ethics  Mark D. White

18. Well-Being  Mauro Rossi

19. Fairness and Fair Division  Stefan Wintein and Conrad Heilmann

Part V: Causality and Explanation

20. Causality and Probability  Tobias Henschen

21. Causal Contributions in Economics  Christopher Clarke

22. Explanation in Economics  Philippe Verreault-Julien

23. Modeling the Possible to Modeling the Actual  Jennifer S. Jhun

Part VI: Experimentation and Simulation

24. Experimentation in Economics  Michiru Nagatsu

25. Field Experiments  Judith Favereau

26. Computer Simulations in Economics  Aki Lehtinen and Jaakko Kuorikoski

27. Evidence-Based Policy  Donal Khosrowi

Part VII: Evidence

28. Economic Theory and Empirical Science  Robert Northcott

29. Philosophy of Econometrics  Aris Spanos

30. Statistical Significance Testing in Economics  William Peden and Jan Sprenger

31. Quantifying Health  Daniel M. Hausman

Part VIII: Policy

32. Freedoms, Political Economy, and Liberalism  Sebastiano Bavetta

33. Freedom and Markets  Constanze Binder

34. Policy Evaluation Under Severe Uncertainty: A Cautious, Egalitarian Approach  Alex Voorhoeve

35. Behavioral Public Policy: One Name, Many Types. A Mechanistic Perspective  Till Grüne-Yanoff

36. The Case for Regulating Tax Competition  Peter Dietsch

New open-access book: Jeremy Bentham on Police (UCL Press)

Bentham on policingBy Mark D. White

UCL Press has released a new book, Jeremy Bentham on Police, edited by Scott Jacques and Philip Schofield, which is available as a free download. Its chapters are written mostly from the viewpoint of criminology, but they would seem very relevant to the law-and-economics approach to policing as well, given Bentham's foundational influence over the field.

From the description at the publisher's website:

Jeremy Bentham’s ideas on punishment are famous. Every criminology student learns about Bentham, and every criminologist contends with him, as advocate or opponent. This discourse concerns his ideas about punishment, namely with respect to legislation and the panopticon. Yet, scholars and students are generally ignorant of Bentham’s ideas on police. Hitherto, these ideas have been largely unknowable. Now, thanks to UCL’s Bentham Project, these ideas are public.

Jeremy Bentham on Police celebrates this achievement by exploring the story of Bentham’s writings on police and considering their relevance to the past, present and future of criminology. After Scott Jacques introduces the book, the Director of the Bentham Project, Philip Schofield, describes and explains how it works. Then Michael Quinn, who brought together Bentham’s writings on police, delves into the personal and socio-historical background in which they were created. An extract follows, representing the most (criminologically-)relevant passages from Bentham’s police writings. Finally, a rich variety of scholars offer their thoughts on what those writings mean for criminology. These contributions come from Anthony A. Braga, Ronald Clarke, David J. Cox, Stephen Douglas, Stephen Engelmann, G. Geltner, Joel F. Harrington, Jonathan Jacobs, Paul Knepper, Gloria Laycock, Gary T. Marx, Daniel S. Nagin, Graeme R. Newman, Pat O’Malley, Eric L. Piza, Kim Rossmo, Lucia Summers and Dean Wilson.

New book: Human Dignity and Political Criticism by Colin Bird

Human dignity and political criticismBy Mark D. White

This was very quick buy (thank you Cambridge University Press author's discount): Human Dignity and Political Criticism by Colin Bird (University of Virginia) promises a fascinating critical look at both the nature of human dignity as well as its potential impact on political institutions. From the publisher's website:

Many, including Marx, Rawls, and the contemporary 'Black Lives Matter' movement, embrace the ambition to secure terms of co-existence in which the worth of people's lives becomes a lived reality rather than an empty boast. This book asks whether, as some believe, the philosophical idea of human dignity can help achieve that ambition. Offering a new fourfold typology of dignity concepts, Colin Bird argues that human dignity can perform this role only if certain traditional ways of conceiving it are abandoned. Accordingly, Bird rejects the idea that human dignity refers to the inherent worth or status of individuals, and instead reinterprets it as a social relation, constituted by affects of respect and the modes of mutual attention which they generate. What emerges is a new vision of human dignity as a vital political value, and an arresting vindication of its role as an agent of critical reflection on politics.

Although I'm concerned about Bird's rejection of the normal (Kantian) understanding of dignity, I am intrigued by his emphasis on the respect it implies.

Updates to symposium on Reviving Rationality (Yale Journal of Regulation)

Reviving-RationalityBy Mark D. White

There have been some new contributions posted to the symposium at the Yale Journal of Regulation I posted about last week on Livermore and  Revesz's book Reviving Rationality: Saving Cost-Benefit Analysis for the Sake of the Environment and Our Health (Oxford, 2021).

"OIRA the Angel; OIRA the Devil," by Bridget C.E. Dooling

"Reviving More Than Rationality," by Stuart Shapiro

"Cost-Benefit Analysis as Policy and as Dialectics," by Shi-Ling Hsu

While Dooling and Shapiro focus in on the nature and politics of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) itself, Hsu's contribution is more abstract, addressing the possibility of alternative values and principles to welfarism in public policy and acknowledging the difficulties with balancing these different conceptions of what is good or right:

Perhaps the most serious objection to a welfarist, cost-benefit state, is that welfarism is just another value. Welfarism should stand alongside, and not above, other values such as equality, nondiscrimination, liberty, or freedom. Welfarism might even be subservient to some of these other values. Even welfarists acknowledge the importance of distributional issues, while they work to incorporate them into welfarist frameworks. President Biden has called for changes to CBA to account for distributional issues. Liberty and freedom are obviously fundamental to Americans, as well as other Western societies, as the Brexit vote may well indicate. So perhaps government isn’t even supposed to maximize welfare. It is supposed to reflect the values of a moral individual.

But this line of thinking then leaves unanswered the difficult and obvious question of what government is supposed to do about conflicts in values. What, indeed, is government to do to balance say, public health and safety against liberty and freedom? Personal responsibility against equality? Fairness against prosperity?

They join the first three entries in the symposium:

"Saving Cost-Benefit Analysis for the Sake of the Environment and Our Health," by Timothy Brennan

"Why this is still an important book after the 2020 elections," by E. Donald Elliott

"Cost as the Ultimate Regulatory Restraint," by Jonathan H. Adler