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Faculty of Economics

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Lawson, C.

Order and process in institutionalist thought: Commons and Ayres

Cambridge Journal of Economics

Vol. 39(4) (2015)

Abstract: Process is a central category in institutionalist economics. Conceptions of process, often bound up with ideas of historical time and circular or cumulative causation, are regularly used to distinguish institutionalism from mainstream theorising and to highlight similarities or complementarities with other heterodox positions. Discussions of institutionalist ideas of process, however, have tended to concentrate on the contributions of Thorstein Veblen to the exclusion of those of other major institutionalists. In contrast, this article considers two other important contributors to institutionalist thought: John Commons and Clarence Ayres. The differences between these authors’ works are often thought to articulate some kind of a fault line in institutionalist thought, highlighting very different and indeed incompatible positions. I argue that although their overall projects are clearly very different, if attention is focussed on the general ontological presuppositions of each author, there exists a good measure of common ground between them. This is especially the case if comparisons are made, in line with the focus of this special issue, between their conceptions of process and order. From an ontological perspective, moreover, those aspects of their accounts that at first appear at odds, are rather shown to be quite compatible and even usefully complementary.

Keywords: Commons, Ayres, Process, Order, Social ontology

JEL Codes: B150, B250, B310, B410, B520

Author links: Clive Lawson  

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