chapter  5
21 Pages


The picture that has been sketched of the birth, evolution and nature of classic social economics should make one thing clear: its ultimate aim is to lay down principles of economic policy, to guide the policy maker in ascertaining what is conducive to social welfare and what is not. This pragmatic point of view follows the lead of Sismondi, who, in the opening paragraph of his initial essay, subordinated political economy to the “science of government” with the object of securing the physical well-being of man, and of teaching government “the true system of administering national wealth.”1 In other words, social economics sees itself as an essentially normative science. The emphasis on social values and the social good does not, of course, preclude the traditional scientific undertakings of description, analysis and explanation as the efforts of both Sismondi and Hobson to understand macroeconomic fluctuations and depressions testify. But social economics goes beyond such factual studies to make statements also regarding policy and the institutional order, and do so as part of economic knowledge. This approach is especially characteristic of Hobson, whose entire life’s work was a quest to articulate the requirements of a more rational socioeconomic order and to suggest the means toward realizing this ideal in practice.