Sei sulla pagina 1di 2

1 Mills analysis in An Essay on Government has almost everything in common with contemporary public choice theory and, like

the latter, it was accused of lackingempirical content. The accusation came from the historian T. B. Macaulay (1829) in a famous review, which has lost nothing of its topicality. 2 The term ceteris paribus was used by economists before Mill, but apparently not by Mill himself. It was Mills follower John E. Cairns, who made it popular, by using it in his influential The Character and Logical Method of Political Economy (1875:63). 3 The marginalist revolution refers to the switch from explaining market behavior in terms of the total utility of an economic good to explaining it in terms of the utility of an additional unit of that good. To take a simple example: the first piece of cake gives you a large amount of pleasure, the second some pleasure, and the third very little or none at all. This is the law of diminishing marginal utility, which is at the basis of the marginalist revolution. 4 Webers view is similar to the principle of charity defended by Jon Elster (1979:116f.). 5 An exception was the Austrian economist Fritz Machlup, who rejected the empiricist interpretations of economics. According to him (in an article first published in 1954 and reprinted in his 1978 book), the basic assumptions of economics are ideal types and not independently testable (Machlup 1978:ch. 5). 6 There are obvious problems also with the interpretation of Friedman as a methodological instrumentalist (see, e.g., Mki 1989:1847, Hausman 1992:1629). One problem is that Friedman suggests that assumptions should be sufficiently good approximations for the purpose in hand (Friedman 1953:15). According to instrumentalism, there is no need for assumptions to be even approximately true. 7 Popper rejected logical positivism mainly on the ground that verification of universal laws is impossible. No finite number of confirming instances can ever establish a universal law to be true. There is always the possibility of a disconfirming instance. In sharp contrast to this, it is enough with one disconfirming

instance to falsify a universal law. Therefore, according to Popper, try the best you can to falsify your scientific hypotheses. 8 It should be mentioned, though, that the explanations made by members of the Chicago School sometimes turn into functionalism and a breach with methodologica lindividualism. The emergence and survival of social institutions are explained in terms of their rationality, or functionality for society, as a whole, but without an account of the rational choices of individuals, which are the ultimate causes of all social phenomena. The work of Richard Posner is replete with examples of this perversion of rational choice theory. See, for example, his article A theory of primitive society, with special reference to law (1980:5), where he explicitly renounces rational choice and endorses functionalism. 9 I use here the noninclusive language (e.g., economic man, political man) that was current at the time and at the very center of the arguments made at the time I am writing about. 10 See, however, Buchanan (1989), where he denies that the assumption of self-interest is a necessary element in rational choice models. In this article, it is suggested that rational choice models have the following three elements: methodological individualism, utility maximization, and constraints, including those posed by social institutions. 11 This hypothesis holds only if voters preferences are evenly distributed, or concentrated at the center, not if there is strong ideological polarization.