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The Continuing Relevance of the Early Institutionalists

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM

Hilton Atlanta, Crystal F
Hosted By: Association for Evolutionary Economics
  • Chair: Mary V. Wrenn, University of the West of England

From Evolutionary Economics to Evolutionary Realism: Some Connections Between Charles S. Peirce’s Pragmaticism and Thorstein Veblen’s Post-Darwinian Economics

Manuel Ramon Souza Luz
Street Scholar & Federal University of ABC (UFABC)


This paper aims to revisit the foundations of Thorstein Veblen's post-Darwinian Economics from the stand point of Charles S. Peirce’s Pragmaticism. The paper seeks to broaden the perspective of some previous works within the field of Original Institutional Economics, which are characterized by a reference of Peirce’s ideas on the work of Veblen in a punctual manner, circumscribed to specific themes, such as the logic of scientific thought and the idea of cumulative causation. It is argued here that a more comprehensive understanding, which takes into account the architectural foundations of Peirce's Pragmaticism, may help to reveal a set of possible associations between the authors that remain still unexplored. In this sense, the work will seek to refer to the architectonic blocks of Peirce's Evolutionary Philosophy, focusing on (i) the pragmaticist understanding of meaning; (ii) semiotics, (iii) the phenomenological categories and (iv) synechism as the foundation of evolutionary realism. The architectonic understanding of Peircean Pragmaticism shed new lights onto key features of Thorstein Veblen's Evolutionary Economics, especially on how we understand the nature of habits, the role of social impulse and its relation to institutions, and the meaning itself of evolutionary dynamics. Finally, it is argued that the advance on the studies on Peirce’s Pragmatism by evolutionary economists may help to clarify our understanding of the methodological, epistemological and ontological foundations of Veblen's work.

Veblen as a First Evolutionary Psychologist: Conspicuous Consumption as a Manifestation of ‘Archaic Traits’

Rojhat Avsar
Columbia College


It is the contention of this paper that the field of Evolutionary Psychology, in the 80s, rediscovered and matured the project that Veblen initiated a long time ago: explaining the origin of contemporary institutional forms with reference to the circumstances/environment under which our species had spent most of its evolution. The notion of conspicuous consumption presents the most clear-cut case to document this continuity. Although Veblen was eager to apply Darwinian principles of “natural” selection to institutional change, his failure to integrate group and sexual selection into his theory left his account of human nature somewhat vague or incomplete at best. First, the assumption that there ever was a phase in our evolution, the “peaceable savagery,” characterized by a lack of (violent) competition among groups/tribes should be re-evaluated in the face of contemporary evidence to the contrary. Second, unless we see conspicuous consumption as a fitness signaling tool aimed at maximizing reproductive success we may run into difficulties in explaining its emergence in the first place. Lastly, genetic diversity (a polymorphic equilibrium) under culturally adverse circumstances (“regime of status”) would be only viable if the natural selection operated at the group level as well as at the level of the individual; and if reproductive success has largely been detached from economic status. Overall, this paper intends to give Veblen his due for being the visionary in providing an evolutionary account of human nature while highlighting the shortcomings of his evolutionary approach.

Of Vested Interests and Puppeteers: Hobsonian influences on Thorstein Veblen's "The Vested Interests and the Common Man"

Roberto Resende Simiqueli
American School of Campinas (ESAMC)


The intellectual partnership between Thorstein Bunde Veblen and John Atkinson Hobson is well documented, and spans back to the publication of both authors' defining works (Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) and Hobson's Imperialism: a Study (1902)). Moving from mutually positive reviews to a long lasting friendship, these two radical critics of early capitalism in the XXth century wrote an admirable array of books discussing the issues of their time, with an emphasis on the behavior of economic élites and their conduct of business and politics.
Focusing on Thorstein Veblen, we believe there are no instances in which Hobson's influence becomes clearer than on The Vested Interests and the Common Man (1919), originally published as a series of papers (printed on The Dial between late 1918 and early 1919) resulting from lectures given by the author at Amherst College, at May 1918. As such, our aim with this paper is to explore the presence of common Hobsonian themes in this specific moment of Veblenian production, emphasizing some noticeable shifts in his political and ideological alignment following the decades of exchange with the British scholar of Imperialism.

From Dewey to Kahneman and Sapolsky

James L. Webb
University of Missouri-Kansas City


Imagine geology without modern chemistry and physics. In general, empirical sciences with large and diverse subject matters apply other specific sciences to their subject matters to identify low level causal mechanisms and study interrelated processes. For social sciences, the specific sciences studying cognitive and affective processes are the analog of chemistry and physics to geology. Dewey’s work on habits (as dispositions) has great value. Dewey explicitly took into account both the biological and social matrices in his study of inquiry. To an amazing extent, Dewey’s analysis of habit anticipates Kahneman, Tversky, and their colleagues. Dewey relied on gross observation and shrewd abductions, since the modern understanding of evolution and neurophysiology were unavailable. Robert Sapolsky’s elaborates the elements in the biological matrix from a current perspective. But Dewey’s work, I would argue, anticipates and complements the more recent scholars. The work of Kahneman and Sapolsky corrects and expands Dewey path breaking analysis. Which is as it should be, by Dewey’s guiding lights.

Neuro-Sciences and their Relationship to Economic Analysis and the Concept of "Rationality"

W. Robert Brazelton


Economic Analysis has historically been based on its early interpretation of the early fields of Sociology and Psychology and referred to itself as the " Queen of the Social Sciences" It has also developed the concept of "rationality". This has led to such economic theories as "Rationality Expectations" , etc. based upon the rationality assumption. This paper will introduce the reader briefly to those beliefs. It will also and primarily refer to such more recent studies in both Sociology and Psychology that"refute" the "rationality" analysis from recent studies in those fields of analysis along with the results of the analysis in terms of policy implications. The paper will then indicate how the above mentioned studies have to do with with both economic analysis and economic policy such as monetary policy and fiscal policy. The paper will then conclude with the policy implications relating to a more "institutional/ evolutionary " analysis.
John Henry
Levy Economics Institute
JEL Classifications
  • B1 - History of Economic Thought through 1925
  • B5 - Current Heterodox Approaches