Monday, August 20, 2012

More on Walras

A follow up to my post on on Walras and naturalism.   Walras’ near-religious commitment to the notion of political economy as a natural science appears throughout his work.

For example, he wrote that he wanted to create

…a new science: the science of economic forces analogous to the science of astronomical forces.  I cite astronomy because it is in fact the type of science like which, sooner or later, the theory of social wealth ought to become.  In both there are natural facts, in the sense that they are and remain superior to social conventions and that they impose themselves on the human will; laws equally natural and consequently necessary, some of principal importance, few in number, the others secondary, quite numerous, varied and complex; facts and laws suitable for an extensive and fruitful application of calculus and mathematical formulas.  The analogy is complete and striking. 

 And on exchange-value, he writes:

The fact of value in exchange is a natural and ineluctable fact; since, although it was generated partially as a result of mankind’s presence on earth, it is above all generated as a result of the limitation of the quantity of useful things, and should be considered just as independent of our psychological liberty as are the facts of gravity of vegetation, etc.

Among the economic facts are found the facts of value in exchange and the fact of exchange which are essentially natural facts just like the facts of heat, of illness.  They are the primitive direct object of political economy, a natural science as completely independent of justice as is physics or pathology.

I cannot escape the conclusion, therefore, that Walras is just hopelessly inconsistent.  As I noted elsewhere, he stresses that matters such as property arrangements (individual vs. communal) are matters of social conventions. So how could it be possible that the so-called laws discovered under a private property regime would be “superior”  to” social convention”?   Further, if property is social institution, how could the fact of exchange be “natural” (even if one could argue that the exchange-values of commodities are “natural”)  Earlier, I tried to rescue Walras from inconsistency by suggesting that he meant to say that if a society instituted private property, the laws that resulted were (at least in some sense).  But with the above passages, even this reading cannot be sustained.

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