George Walford: The Abstraction of Economics

In The Dialectic of Demand it was shown that Aristotelian logic is not sufficient for the full comprehension of society or, therefore, for its effective control. Dialectic also was needed. This is not generally recognised, the attempt continues to be made to study society “scientifically” (which usually means on Aristotelian principles) in the expectation that the results obtained will be useful in controlling it. Those who make this attempt tend to divide into two groups.

The first group give up the attempt in despair. Finding that society is for considerable part not amenable to Aristotelian logic, the only logic they know, they conclude that it must be inherently irrational, its behaviour not related to any system of logic at all. They come to believe that it can be treated only in a merely empirical, rule-of-thumb way, and some few of them even come to agree with the Fascists, to hold that society is governed by non-rational factors such as blood, will and race.

The second group persist in the application of Aristotelian principles. They go on to produce a body of theory treating society as if it were an inanimate, merely Aristotelian object; they have published whole libraries of precise, carefully scientific studies which are largely irrelevant to the problems presented by the society in which we actually live. Much of economics comes into this category, and some economists recognise this. J. K. Galbraith has remarked that the main function of economics is to provide jobs for economists, and Guy Routh notes:

In the Economic Journal in the years 1932-5 only three papers appeared on the subject of unemployment… the same lack of concern is reflected in the American Economic Review and in the lists there published of doctoral dissertations… (The Origin of Economic Ideas 1977 pp 266)

from Ideological Commentary 11, March 1982.