Human Agency, Cumulative Causation, and the State

Mayhew, Anne
June 2001
Journal of Economic Issues (Association for Evolutionary Economi;Jun2001, Vol. 35 Issue 2, p239
Academic Journal
This article presents the views of the author on receiving the Veblen-Commons Award. In a very famous passage in his famous essay "Why Is Economics Not an Evolutionary Science?" Thorstein Veblen said that humans are not passive recipients of pleasure and pain. With similar understanding, John R. Commons stressed the importance of "volitional psychology." If American institutionalism is understood to be an aspect of American pragmatism, as opposed to an offshoot of British or German thought in political economy, the importance given to the role of the active individual in the work of Veblen and Commons makes complete sense. By 1950, there was increasing interest among social scientists in explaining how individuals choose and even create their own patterns of behavior. Much of this new interest can be explained by the disappearance of well-defined tribal and peasant cultures that provided simple models of coherent cultures; much can also be explained by the cross-cultural sharing and migration that has become such a pronounced feature of the world. However, as social scientists raced the world of the late twentieth century, they did not do so with the view that new or refined tools were needed to deal with new situations.


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