Metaeconomics in the structure of economic theories

What is metaeconomics?

Definitions used in economics are not elaborated as something isolated but in the developing framework provided by the economic thinking. On what basis we use or not a criteria, for guidance in developing and testing hypotheses, how we are going to correlate the macro and microeconomics from all of economic theories, how we are going to judge the allocation of resources, for what purpose we use resources etc. are all issues that need to be elucidated in order to develop well-constructed theories. All these have their place in metaeconomics.

There is a series of papers dealing with these problems. And we have selected some of the most important contributions. Published in 1973 (one year after the work of Commoner) the book Small is beautiful. Une société á la mesure de l'homme (E. F. Schumacher) brought new types of problems in the economic debate "One of the fatal errors of our time is to consider solved the problem of production."[1] The error consists in believing that if things do not go just well the cause lies in the "political system" that it is perfectible. "The birth of this error, so great and firmly rooted is closely related to philosophical changes (...), occurred in the last three or four centuries, in the human attitude towards nature (...). Modern man does not conceive himself as an integral part of nature, but as an outside force destined for dominating it."[2]

Illusion of "human the master of nature" has created the illusion (based on theory of value generated by labor) the capacity to use to the infinite the "capital that nature gives us." "That is why it is absurd to consider solved the problem of production and we base our action on such trust. Such an error leads us directly to suicide."[3] Economic theories and practices have a philosophical foundation of great importance. "To exclude the wisdom from economy, science and technology represents, perhaps, currently, no risk, as long as we know relatively successful. But as soon as we know great success, the spiritual truth and moral issue occupies the central place."[4] "Economy" exists not only in itself or, more correctly, the economy exists through heterogeneous processes and factors, all interrelated with the societal ensemble. "Economics is a science 'derived' that receive instructions from what we called metaeconomics. A change in instructions leads a change in the content of [5] economy."

Metaeconomics represents the ensemble of the factors and processes that generate models of human action in the "sphere" of the economy. Metaeconomics refers to all factors, processes that generate the conduct of economic processes. Thus, values, lifestyle, social and power structures, etc. create a framework acting strongly on the processes considered "economic" as "a Buddhist lifestyle requires a Buddhist economics, just as a modern materialistic lifestyle born modern economy."[6] The "modern economist's" lack of understanding of these processes has created many difficulties in economic practice (including the "idolatry of gigantism" (67) exaggerating the role of consumption, domestic consumption of resources, etc. "Economic calculation, as applied to the contemporary economy, forcing industry to eliminate the human factor, because machines are not making mistakes that people make."[7]

Metaeconomics establishes the place and role of man in the economy, because "throughout history - as well as daily experience - points out that man, not nature provides basic resources (...) the key factor of all economic development is the fruit of the human spirit."[8] The goals, values, freedom and constraint frameworks, beliefs, lifestyle, social and consumer behavior, etc. are "components" of metaeconomics. Metaeconomics includes rules for assessing economic theories, testing and interpreting tests (including theory of truth and falsifiability of assumptions) etc. We could say that what we discussed over the topic I refer, in fact, refers also to elements related to metaeconomics. Metaeconomics bears the "footprint" of metascientific level (there is a level of meta-physics, of meta-chemistry, etc.)

Metaeconomics has a "heterogeneous" character, using elements of the philosophy of science, logic, epistemology, methodology, etc. We cannot ignore this approach because otherwise we fall into relativism (thinking that there are no criteria for selection of theories, but research interests) and positivism (assuming that economy should ignore discussion concerning "abstract" problems of philosophy and deal only with practical "positive aspects"). But this "metaeconomics" that we do not control it "empirically" is not a "reality" but it is substantially different from what we call "economy." Like the "economy," what we call "metaeconomics" is a theoretical construct, an elaboration on the "axis" of depth levels. Metaeconomic processes will be found in the course of economic processes, they will shape and, in part, will generate them. We will see how different the metaeconomics acts in macro or microeconomics.

  • [1] Schumacher, E. F. (1978), Small is Beautiful. Une société à la mesure de l'homme. Paris: Edit. Contratempo, from English translation: Small is Beautiful. A Study of Economics as if People Mattered. London: Bland and Briggs Ltd., 1973, 13.
  • [2] Ibid., 14.
  • [3] Ibid., 15.
  • [4] Ibid, 33.
  • [5] Ibid., 52.
  • [6] Ibid., 53.
  • [7] Ibid., 74.
  • [8] Ibid., 99.
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