HUMAN ECONOMIC VALUE
When one manages with stoic effort to isolate oneself from the deafening worldly noise to travel with reading and imagination through the works and biographies of great economists of more than hundred fifty years ago, one easily observes that many of them, not to say all, were not economists. From Domingo de Soto, Tomás de Mercado, Quesnay or Locke, to Bentham, Cantillon, Adam Smith, Malthus, John Stuart Mill and many others, none of them was a doctor in economic sciences. Among other things because the economic discipline did not exist as such nor the abilities with such a name. The important contributions carried out by these authors were framed in the inaccessible interdependence of the sciences of man: of history, ethics, politics, psychology, human organization, medicine, law… etc. Many of them, in turn, were philosophers. Today few or none of us are. In fact, it is much easier to find philosophers that are involved in the economic field (sometimes with remarkable ingenuousness, ignorance and ideological simplicity) than economists that study the basic problems of their subject with a certain philosophical perspective. At most, that gap in our formation is recognised and it is attempted to fill it with great effort that later is gratifyingly rewarded intellectually. As Hayek did: “even when I go on thinking that I am principally an economist, I have reached the conclusion which for me is more and more evident, that the answers to many of the pressing social problems of our time are, without a doubt, based on principles that fall outside of the field of economic technique or of any other isolated discipline.»
Since economic valuation always makes reference to man and his immense interior world: his projects and illusions, hopes, intuitions, feelings and his next, mediate and final intentions, the economy needs to know those intentions and those great laws of conduct. It needs to meditate on anthropology and human behaviour. Everything leads to the convenience, or even better, the imperious necessity for information and in-depth study of the sciences of man. We are not able to nor should we rashly reject the contributions that human sciences can make for a better understanding of economic science.
Although the economy needs to deal with the material realities for their origin and, therefore, needs knowledge of the sciences of nature, the truly important thing is not those realities considered in themselves, but in how they can serve man, that is to say, how much they are worth. The economy studies those realities from the point of view of their value. Value is the centre of all economic analysis. The economy exercises a mediation function between the sciences of nature and human sciences. It does not seek to know things just as they are in themselves, but their capacity of human relationship. The economy, when studying economic value, what it attempts is to sift the human » vocation » that material reality has. The problems of value are the central core of economic problems, because they indicate those “whys?” of economic investigation and show us what objectives we are trying to reach.
Böhm-Bawerk describes as old anomaly that “authors don’t worry about investigating the marvellously subtle complications of the formation of value, that should be the mission and pride of our science to disentangle, far from that fatuous presumption or an even more fatuous negative attitude which was adopted before them, in that things were not adjusted to the established presumption.» And David Ricardo, when referring to the content of his theory of value, affirmed: “it is a doctrine of the greatest importance in political economy and from no other source do so many errors and differences of opinion originate as from the vague ideas that are connected with the word value.»
The problem of value has important practical repercussions in the whole sphere of economic action. It is not a merely nominalist question; it is not something purely speculative. The problem of value, necessarily affects human behaviour and even the problem of man’s happiness and, consequently, that of society. Because, to discover the appropriate incentives we need to know the nature of economic value, that is to say, the variable that it is necessary to increase to achieve more productive and substantial economic growth.
In my opinion, in order for economic science to emerge from its crisis, it has to reflect on its fundamental principles and goals again. Economic value has to incorporate again to the position that corresponds to it. The economy has to be made more human, to include man as an object to study. The title of Ludwig Von Mises’ monumental essay on political economy is highly significant: Human Action. The economy turns to practice; it is a science of conscious performance. As such, it is more a science of the spirit than of nature. The human fellow’s consideration in the economy is accentuated more due to the evolution from industrialized society towards a service society. The necessity for a process of re-humanization of scientific knowledge is felt.
Peter F. Drucker, in an article that analyses the future direction of economic science from the book The Crisis in Economic Theory, indicates that the next economy tries to be “human” and » science » again. It will be human if it is authentic science and it will be science if it is genuinely human.
JJ Franch Meneu