Second Thoughts: On Economics, Sociology, Neoliberalism, Polanyi’s Double Movement and Intellectual Vacuums
Michel J. Piore
David W. Skinner Professor of Political Economy
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
2008 President of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics
San José, Costa Rica
July 22, 2008
I want to discuss this afternoon the relationship between sociology and economics and the role that relationship plays – or could play – at the current political juncture as we move away from the dominance of neoliberalism and the Washington Consensus in the formulation of public policy. To do so, however, I have to abjure two positions which I had taken in this organization in the past. I was first invited to SASE by Axel van den Berg in 1999 as the lone economist on a panel about the relationship between economics and sociology. I argued there that the debate the panel set up between economics and sociology was misplaced; that sociologists should stick to their last, forget their preoccupation with economics, and do their own thing. If they did it well, they would inevitably provide the alternatives to economics that they thought necessary.
I am, however, about to enter here into the very debate which I counseled so strongly against then.
But I am also going to take issue with the theme of the meeting, the tension between economic flexibility and social stability, or more particularly with the development of the theme in the more extensive Call to the Meetings for which I am largely responsible. The Call to the Meetings argues that the tension between flexibility and stability is being played out today in an intellectual vacuum, in sharp contrast to similar periods in the past in which there were a series of well articulated and intellectually coherent alternatives to the neoliberal vision of a market economy. Several of these alternative visions are being reviewed in panels at these meetings. The point that no comparable alternatives have emerged today was challenged from the very moment I began to circulate the meeting document and what then emerged in discussions with colleagues and commentators in Latin America, but also in Europe and the United States, was actually a fairly coherent and consistent alternative vision. I became aware of this vision too late to begin to think through what it meant for the implicit argument and certainly too late to revise the meeting statement. In a sense, that is what I am going to do here.