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Economic Theory and the Social Question: Some Dialectics Regarding the Work-Dependency Relationship

Wagner, Richard E.

Journal of Contextual Economics – Schmollers Jahrbuch, Vol. 139 (2019), Iss. 2-4: pp. 407–420

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Wagner, Richard E., Department of Economics and F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, George Mason University, Buchanan Hall D 101, Fairfax, VA 22030, USA.


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This article uses the 19th century concern with “the social question” to explore how theories shape our insights into our subjects of interest. Contemporary theory mostly construes economics as a science of rational action, which reduces the social question to a matter of material inequality. In contrast, this article treats economics as a form of social theory, with the social question revolving around the material and the moral qualities of societies. While redistribution may be a component of efforts to address the social question, primary focus rests on the institutional arrangements through which human capacities are formed and moral orientations generated.