Heterodox economics and theories of interactive agency

Authored by: Mary V. Wrenn

The Routledge Handbook of Heterodox Economics

Print publication date:  July  2017
Online publication date:  July  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138899940
eBook ISBN: 9781315707587
Adobe ISBN:


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Agency is power—the power to act and the power to choose, the power to imagine, and the power to understand, engage, and manipulate the surrounding biological and social environment. Mainstream economics defines agency in terms of methodological individualism and the individual agent by an optimizing, rational economic man. Agency within the mainstream framework is endowed without discretion to all individuals who independently choose to act based on the weight of ‘objective’ costs and benefits (Davis 2003; Lavoie 2006). One of the justifications for this simplified depiction of the acting individual is that such behavior is observable in the animal world; indeed ‘optimization’ may be found at the microscopic level (Hodgson 2004). The explanation of behavior in a Petri dish, however, does not provide a satisfactory or meaningful explanation in the crucible of the real world, with intelligent, creative, and socially situated human beings—at least not to heterodox economists.

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