"Man is a creature who makes pictures of himself, and then comes to resemble that picture" - Iris Murdoch

Tuesday 21 February 2017

Some Thoughts About Thinking About Political Economy

Ancient Agora of Athens 5
By DerHexer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via

I am a couple of chapters into Dimitris Milonakis and Ben Fine's From Political Economy to Economics.  So far, it has been a clear introduction to the history of economic thought and the change of methods which, as the title suggests, led to the disappearance of the political economy tradition.  (If you're not so keen to dive straight into discussion of inductive vs. deductive reasoning, abstract vs. historical enquiry, etc, then an engaging starting-point is Robert Heilbroner's The Worldly Philosophers, telling the story of thinkers from Adam Smith to Joseph Schumpeter.)

I thought this would be a good time for me to note down what I'm after in thinking about political economy.  So far, I've been writing blogposts without giving an overall framework for how the different strands tie together.  One way of framing my reading and writing is as an effort to think about how ethics, social thought and politics should be merged into a political economy approach: a wider perspective on how we shape and maintain "the economy".

From what I've absorbed so far, it seems that "political economy" should be characterised by a number of aspects.  Firstly, it should pull together what are usually thought of as different social sciences, for instance economics, anthropology, sociology and geography (and, importantly, a borderline humanity, history).  Secondly, it should recognise that this kind of enquiry has a moral dimension.  Thirdly, it should recognise that this kind of enquiry has a political dimension.