By Athanasios Asimakopulos, Robert D. Cairns
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Extra info for Economic Theory, Welfare, and the State: Essays in Honour of John C. Weldon
10 The economy may look like a rather larger subset of the world from the provisioning point of view than from the exchange point of view, but the difference is not very large. It is a very interesting exercise, therefore, as we look at the whole tree of economic thought as it stretches out over the last 300 years or more, to ask whether there are aspects of the economy that economic thought perceived earlier and then lost, which sometimes happens; branches cut off too early. Then one can ask also: Are there misapprehensions, that is, false maps, which have a certain charm and acceptability of their own, even though they may actually mislead us (grafts without fruit)?
T the rise and fall of the Public Sector in the Estimation of the Economists* Dan Usher Over the last two centuries, there has been a great cycle of opinion among economists about the sources of inefficiency: from Adam Smith's sharp and unqualified contrast between private sector enterprise and public sector sloth; to Mill's qualified and reluctant allowance of large domains within the economy where the public sector must act because the private sector would not or could not do so; to Sidgwick's concern in the latter part of the nineteenth century with what we would now call market failure and his willingness to trust the public sector to put things right; to Pigou's detailed analysis in the early years of the twentieth century of the defects of the competitive economy coupled with an almost complete disregard of the possibility of public sector inefficiency; to a recent revival of interest in public sector economics and a reassessment of public sector efficiency reminiscent of the views of Adam Smith.
The model of celestial mechanics, indeed, has been disastrous for the social sciences, simply because in the solar system the parameters are very stable, whereas in social systems they are often quite unstable and unpredictably so. The idea that prediction is a test of human knowledge is only valid as long as parameters are stable. In social systems it is absurd, simply because these systems involve information and knowledge as absolutely essential components. Information has to be surprising. The knowledge that we are going to have in the future cannot be predicted or we would know it now.