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Vers une autre science économique (et donc une autre institution de cette science)

Yefimov, Vladimir (2010): Vers une autre science économique (et donc une autre institution de cette science). Published in: Revue du Mauss permanente (10. May 2010)


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Permanent readers of this journal have certainly noticed that the title of this article has a great similarity with the title of the issue No. 30 of the Revue du MAUSS. At first glance, the title of this issue “Toward another economic science (and thus toward another world)” may seem odd. Indeed, if the word "economic" is replaced in this title by the words "physical" ("chemical" or "biological"), we get a very strange statement: another type of physics (chemistry or biology) gives us another world in which we are supposed to live, that is to say, the physical properties of materials become different, chemical reactions occur differently, and biological properties of organisms are transformed. But if for natural sciences, this sentence does not make sense, it has a deep meaning for economics. The constructivist institutionalism gives us the key to understand this meaning. Following this institutionalism, economics provides society with the elements for the socio-economic-political discourse, and it is itself part of this discourse, which in turn significantly influence institutional change. This feature of economics creates a temptation for economists to go directly to the discourse (mainly what should be) without devoting enough attention to the study of reality (what is). The fact that economists do not resist this temptation has serious consequences: despite their good intentions, the proposed solutions elaborated without knowledge of the details of reality either do not give the expected results or often cause negative unexpected consequences. The 20th century gives plenty of evidence of this kind. According to social constructivism, "institutionalization occurs whenever there is a reciprocal typification of habitualized actions by types of actors. Put it differently, any such typification is an institution" [Berger and Luckmann, 1991, p. 72]. It is not enough to define institutions just as rules, but according to social constructivism, we consider them as rules when they become habits. The constructivist institutionalism sees the source of social regularities in these habits, and in this way it requires to study institutions as the foreground of the economy rather than its background. This type of study requires close ("ethnographic") observation made in the past by the German ethico-historical school (Gustav Schmoller) and the Wisconsin institutional school (John Commons). Heterodox economists (post-Keynesians, Marxists, regulationists, conventionalists, socio-economists) who see institutions as the background of the economy, practice remote observations and do not exercise the collection of detailed information about the rules and beliefs that support them contained in the discourses of actors. From this point of view, we can consider that the orthodox and most of the heterodox currents belong to the same paradigm that does not provide an understanding of economic reality and which does not make us capable to foresee the arrival of such phenomena as the current crisis and to explain their mechanisms. The few who have managed to do so did their research in the framework of another paradigm, that of constructivist institutionalism, perhaps without knowing it. The transition of the community of economists to this paradigm requires a radical institutional reform of the profession. The constructivist institutionalism also gives us some suggestions on how to run this reform.

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