The Autonomy of the Political within Political Economy
Originally published in George Mason University SSRN Working Paper Series
Political economy is a term in wide use, and has been for centuries. Yet standard economic theory reduces politics to ethics or economics. This reduction is enabled by the presumption of closed choice data or given utility and cost functions. In this conceptual framework, the political vanishes into an activity of preference satisfaction according to a welfare function (ethics) or into trade (economics). To bring the political back to life within a theory of political economy requires that closed schemes of thought be replaced by open schemes. The ways in which individuals react to the indeterminacy of their subjective choice data, in innocuous small scale settings as well as in situations of dramatic exception to constitutional rules, separates them into leaders and followers. Followership creates an opportunity for political enterprise at the social level (enterprise in rules) and at the subjective level (enterprise in visions of options, and hence preferences). At both levels the political comes to the fore of political economy as an answer to the “challenge of the exception”. Much of our inspiration for this argument traces to the work of Friedrich Wieser, Carl Schmitt and Vincent Ostrom.