From Political Economy to Freakonomics: Method, the Social by Ben Fine, Dimitris Milonakis

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He was a broker by profession and never attended university. Redman (1997, pp. 288–9) partly attributes Ricardo’s narrow perspective (his ‘one-track mind’) to his professional shortsightedness: His working on the London stock exchange required the ability to make quick decisions and assess the situation by reducing the problem to simple analytical relations … For a political economist, however, this method can only lead to what might be termed … ‘brokers’ myopia’. Specifically, in his own words, ‘My object’, he writes to Malthus, ‘[is] to elucidate principles, and to do this I imagined strong cases that I might shew the operation of these principles’, Ricardo (1952b, p.

This gives rise to the second dualism in Smith’s method. It concerns the use of both individualistic and holistic/collectivist modes of reasoning. Thus, although Smith’s theory of economic development in the first chapters of Book I of the Wealth of Nations is built on the individualistic premises of self-interest and natural human propensities, his theory of distribution presented in the final chapters of Book I is conducted in structuralist, collectivist and hence aggregate terms. Individuals have become members of classes, the individual self-interest has given way to class interests, and individuals have been substituted by collective agents, Urquhart (1993, pp.

285), and see also next chapter, Section 3. Although Ricardo was certainly the first economist to use the abstract method so fully, Nassau Senior (1790–1864) wrote one of the first explicit essays on method in 1826, Hutchison (1998, p. 46). Between them they set off what Hausman (1992, p. 1) has called ‘traditional methodological wisdom’, or what Hutchison (1998, p. 44) has characteristically termed ‘empirically minimalist ultra-deductivism’. Senior’s advocacy of the axiomatic method is made explicit in his An Outline of the Science of Political Economy (1965) [1836], from which he can be interpreted to hold that, ‘introspection and casual observation were sufficient to provide such an axiomatic basis’, Pheby (1988, p.

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