Other Kinds of Metaeconomics  

 

Buracas (2016, p. 16) points to how the term Metaeconomics has been used to refer to such diverse matters as the methodology of economics;  to describe a system of higher logical order for economic research; to frame the study of the philosophical or moral foundations of sustainable economics; and, to describe a meta-system approach to  organizational decisions, with several firms "providing advisory and consultancy services in environmental policy analysis (asset  valuation, resource efficiency, climate change mitigation, structural adjustment...)." These other renditions of Metaeconomics are generally devoid of any specific framing or behavioral theory, in contrast to that  represented in the Metaeconomics Framework (MEF) and Dual Interest Theory (DIT). There is an intriguing history of the term, however, suggesting it never really evolved on a connected path, rather being used at different times to address a variety of different ideas, with little apparent common background.  We will now explore the various notions, looking for any shared ground that might exist.

Both Becchio (2009) and Buracas (2004; 2016) claim the notion of Metaeconomics goes back to Karl Menger,  a mathematician in  Vienna in the 1930s.     Becchio (2009, p.7) points to how Menger was a supporter of the "Hilbertian program on economic theory" which he referred to as applying a kind of Metaeconomics, which followed the "philosophical framework of... the neoclassical approach."  The aim was to apply a "metamathematical model .... to economic theory  in order to free economics and ethics (generally speaking regarded as social sciences) from logical mistakes (Becchio, 2009, p. 7). 

 

This actually  started quite sometime before Menger,  with the lines of the Methodenstreit (Swedberg, 1990, p. 10): There was a particularly sharp confrontation between what were to become the modern day Neoclassical Economists, Neoinstitutional Economists, and  Sociologists, at the meeting of the American Economic Association in 1894.  It was declared:  “sociologists have no right to stake off for themselves a portion of social science without the consent of the economists (Swedberg, 1990, p. 10).” This was driven in part... perhaps mainly... by what we might call "physics-envy," as it were: Academic physicists had more status at the universities of the day, due to being a "hard science".  The economists in the American Economic Association did not want to be associated with the imprecision, messiness of social science, and wanted to create a mathematical science on par with physics.  Menger, in 1934, is simply reinforcing, working to refine, and help justify, the path  started by the economists over 40 years earlier.  Neoclassical Economics is on this path to this day.

 

We have used the term Metaeconomics in quite a different way, in part to mean the essence of economics... the Meta meaning self-referential (Merriam -Webster)... as originally conceived, at least going back to Smith  (1759; 1776): Ethics, the moral dimension, had always been a part of economics, prior to the late-1800s.  It was extricated as  Neoclassical Economics evolved, which was helped by mathematicians like Menger who used the term to do the exact opposite of our intentions: We use Metaeconomics to mean putting ethics and the moral dimension back into economics, even into its formal mathematical version, because to bring the moral dimension back is essential to making for a good economics, and, in turn, a good capitalism built on pragmatic grounds. We are working to integrate the best ideas into a Metaeconomics which works, pragmatically speaking, for real people as real travelers on a real spaceship earth.  If there is to be a mathematical economics, it also needs to help real people do real things on a real spaceship earth, as in  a Mathematical Metaeconomics. 

 

So, in one way, we diverge substantively from the Menger frame, and, ironically, are taking Metaeconomics almost in exactly the opposite direction of his 1934 proposal. Parkinson (see website https://www.metaeconomics.co.uk/metaeconomics.html )  has also proposed, under the banner of metaeconomics, but he favors metanomics, "for a paradigm shift in the substance, rather than the form of economics, a move which will, paradoxically, take economics back to its origin in the field of moral philosophy."  We agree, but in contrast to Parkinson, we believe the moral dimension, an economics that includes ethics, can also be represented in mathematical characterizations, as demonstrated in Lynne (2006a, 2006b).  Like Menger, we support mathematization, but including the moral dimension, as in a Mathematical Metaeconomics, and, again like Menger, still free of logical errors.  Also, the Parkinson proposal does not have any explicit analytical machinery, whereas Metaeconomics has Dual Interest Theory.

 

The main way we have used the term Metaeconomics, starting with  Lynne (1999), is to use the version of the prefix which primarily means "going beyond, transcending, transforming  (Mirriam-Webster )"... as in  moving beyond and transcending, and to some extent transforming,  both Neoclassical and Neoinstitutional economics.  This is accomplished by building upon what has been learned through empirical work especially in Behavioral Economics, and other empirical social sciences, like Economic Psychology, and Social Psychology, while  going back to draw in key ideas from the original versions of economics, before economics was moved down the path to mathematization.  At the same time, we have worked to include what has been learned as precision has been added in mathematical renditions of economics.   

 

We have also used Metaeconomics at times in a critical manner, as characterized in the definition "used with the name of a discipline to designate a new but related discipline designed to deal critically with the original one (Mirriam-Webster)."  This critique, however, has always been consistent with the Lijonhufvud (2004) contention that:  "Instead of looking for an alternative to replace it, we should  try to imagine an economic theory to transcend its limitations."   Metaeconomics as represented in MEF and DIT is not designed to replace Neoclassical and/or Neoinstitutional Economics, but rather to "transcend... limitations", through an integration of the best ideas, while also drawing on the empirical side of Behavioral Economics (and the many other behavioral sciences). Metaeconomics does  not reflect paradigm shift, in contrast to Parkinson.  Instead, we see Metaeconomics as building on everything that has gone before, represented in literally thousands of journal papers and books, taking the best ideas from it, including the logical and precise mathematical versions of it.  Rather than working toward a paradigm shift, we do an integration, in some ways a re-integration, especially including the empirical findings in behavioral science, as we work to bring the moral dimension back into economics, as Smith (1759; 1776) originally intended. 

Intriguingly, there is also substantive overlap with the sustainability economics literature.  The proposition that Metaeconomics somehow relates to sustainability, generally represented in a "Meta-" as prefix.   Baracas (2016) points to the notion of Meta-economics originating with the notion that Small is Beautiful... building an economy more on ecological, Spaceship Earth principles...  going back to  Schumacher (1973).  Metaeconomics as developed herein, the concept first defined and characterized in Lynne (1999), also makes the connection with sustainability in that Metaeconomics is based in thermodynamic reality, and sees the key role of  the moral dimension in achieving a sustainable system.   Metaeconomics works to draw the best from a variety of disciplines into the integration, which is essential to finding a more sustainable path, very much in the spirit of Consilience (Wilson, 1998). We also see how Metaeconomics could be used to guide all manner of consulting and advice from real world firms, especially in achieving more sustainable economic systems: A consulting firm that saw the inherent need for bringing the moral dimension back into the way Markets and Governments operate could be extremely helpful (and likely quite profitable) in helping build a truly Sustainable, Good Capitalism.

Meta Definition From Miriam-Webster On-line Dictionary https://www.merriam-webster.com/

meta-

 prefix

variants: or met-

Definition of meta- (Entry 2 of 3)

1a: occurring later than or in succession to : after    metestrus

b: situated behind or beyond      metencephalonmetacarpus

c: later or more highly organized or specialized form of   metaxylem

2: change : transformation    metaplasia

3[ metaphysics ] : more comprehensive : transcending   metapsychological—usually used with the name of a discipline to designate a new but related discipline designed to deal critically with the original one    metamathematics

4a: involving substitution at or characterized by two positions in the benzene ring that are separated by one carbon atom    meta-xylene

b: derived from by loss of water     metaphosphoric acid

References

Becchio, Giandomenica. "A Historical Note on the Original Meaning of Metaeconomics." Intellectual Economics 1,5 (2009):7-11.

Buracas, Antanas.  "On Paradigm of Metaeconomics: Essence and Sense." Management of Organizations: Systematic Research 54 (2004):1-12.

Buracas, Antanas.  "On Metaeconomics Concensus in Global Management." Research in Economics and Management 1,1 (2016):15-22.

Leijonhufvud, A.  "The Trento Summer School:  Adaptive Economic Dynamics " In Economics Lab: An Intensive Course in Experimental Economics, edited by Daniel and  Casser Friedman, Alessandra, 5-11. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Lynne, G. D.  “Divided Self Models of the Socioeconomic Person:  The Metaeconomics Approach.”   J. Socio-Economics  28, 3 (1999):  267-288.

Schumacher, E. F.  Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered. London: Blond and Briggs, 1973.

Swedberg, Richard.  Economics and Sociology: Redefining Their Boundaries, Conversations with Economists and Sociologists. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1990.

Wilson, E.O. 1998. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.

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