Institutional economics and psychoanalysis: how can they collaborate for a better understanding of individual-society dynamics? Arturo hermann* may 2005


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In this chapter we will briefly outline the many contributions institutional economics has provided to the understanding of the complex factors underlying individual-society dynamics.

As is known, institutional economics1 originated in the United States in the first decades of the 20 century. Its cultural roots may be identified in the philosophy and psychology of Pragmatism — in particular in the theories of Charles Sanders Peirce, John Dewey and William James— and in the German Historical School, whose principles were utilized by a scholar, Richard T.Ely, who had a considerable influence on the formation of the first generation of institutionalists.

The principal exponents of institutional economics are Thorstein Veblen, John Rogers Commons, Wesley Mitchell and Clarence Ayres. Relevant contributions were also provided by J.Fagg Foster, David Hamilton, Walton hale Hamilton and Gardiner C.Means.

Significant contributions with important connections to institutional economics were provided by, among others, John Kenneth Galbraith, Fred Hirsch, Albert Hirschmann, Gunnar Myrdal, Karl Polanyi and Michael Polanyi.

Within institutional economics two main strands can be identified: (i) the old institutional economics (OIE), constituted by the first institutionalists and by subsequent scholars who shared its main concepts; and the new institutional economics (NIE), composed of later scholars adopting principles that have important references in the Neoclassical and Austrian traditionsth.

In our work, we focus chiefly on the old institutional economics, and in particular on contributions made by Veblen and Commons, but we are aware that many other contributions would deserve more attention.

In this regard, it is interesting to observe the significant links2 between the OIE and, among others, the following theories: (i) philosophical realism; (ii) the socio-economic theory of Amitai Etzioni, which we will address at more length in the appendix; (iii) a number of theories of technological innovation — often labeled as neo-Schumpeterian — which share many important concepts with the OIE: for instance, the importance of path-dependency processes and of the historical and cultural heritage associated with them in explaining the characteristics of technology and innovation in any given context.

The pivotal concepts characterizing the old institutional economics can be summarized as follows: ceremonial/instrumental behaviour dichotomy, instincts, culture, evolution, habits, path-dependency, tacit knowledge, technology, collective action, working rules and social valuing.

Within this conceptual framework, institutional economics stresses that the presence of an institutional context — with its values, norms, organizations, routines, customs and habits — represents a necessary factor for the performance of human activity in the socio-economic setting. In other words, every economic action possesses, simultaneously, also a social, institutional, historical and psychological dimension; thus, an understanding of economic actions requires a joint analysis of all these dimensions which, of course, necessitates the adoption of an interdisciplinary approach.

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