AN INTRODUCTION TO ECONOMICS by Maurice Dobb 1932
IN AMERICA in particular, in recent years, there has developed an important school of economic thought that has studied the future of economics along the lines of inductive enquiry. Aided by the greater wealth of statistics which the modern world, and particularly America, affords, enquiry has proceeded along the lines of the study of business indices and of price-correlations. On the other hand, in Soviet Russia we find economists increasingly occupied with the specialised studies concerned with the concrete problems of economic planning-a development, perhaps, slightly reminiscent of the approach to particular problems of government adopted by the earlier economists prior to the Physiocrats, and particularly by the so-called Cameralists in eighteenth-century Germany. It may be that the differential calculu1 and equation of market equilibrium have said all of which they are capable, and that the future of economic enquiry lies in specialised experimental and concrete studies such as these. Nevertheless, such enquiries can hardly provide more than contributory evidence to the solution of the problems of the general distribution of wealth and the comparative results of different economic systems. This group of questions – those macroscopic, as distinct from microscopic, issues of the economic order – will still remain to be answered, and to be answered presumably in terms of the concepts which Ricardo and Marx employed.
It is arguable that, in all branches of knowledge, questions can only have meaning if they are reducible to terms of action; and action implies an arbitrarily selected subject who initiates the activity. At least, in a study so intimately related to practical issues as Political Economy, it seems idle to pretend that one can be “above the battle” of contemporary history. Many economists, it is true, deploring so vulgar a stain of partisanship, have tried to rescue Political Economy by rendering it more formal, claiming exclusive interest in economics as a mathematical technique. In doing so, they may certainly be successful in withdrawing their science to cloistered purity; but they do so by evading, and not by answering, the questions which formed the raison d’ étre of Political Economy, at least in its classical form. Moreover, in practice those who boast most loudly of their formalism are frequently those who produce, as corollaries of their theorems, the most dogmatic judgments on practical affairs. It is seldom in differences of answer to the same question that partisanship is ultimately found: it is ratter in the way in which the questions are posed, in their arrangement and combination, and in the exclusion of other questions. I have suggested that Political Economy arose as an apologetic of a certain social order and that it remains an apologetic to-day. And apologetic (or else counter-apologetic), it seems, Political Economy must necessarily be, so long as the questions which form its ground-plan are framed in a practical way. To see Political Economy as itself a part of history does not render the study of it one wit less illuminating. Indeed, to treat thought itself like other historical factors as having a definable alignment in the battle of contemporary history – to make explicit a bias previously implicit – may be the only way to rescue it from a barren scholasticism and to make its questions and its answers sense.
1. Cf. The Trend of Economics (1924), ed. R. G. Tugwell.