History matters: on the mystifying appeal of Bowles and Gintis

Finch, J. H. and McMaster, R. (2018) History matters: on the mystifying appeal of Bowles and Gintis. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 42(3), pp. 285-308. (doi: 10.1093/cje/bex002)

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Sam Bowles and Herb Gintis have made a broad and sustained contribution to many areas of contemporary economic thought and policy discussions, centring on human interactions in economic settings. Since the mid-1980s, their work, collectively and individually, has developed from a concern with contested exchanges to analyses of behavioural repertoires pursued through evolutionary game theory in which they claim that ‘history matters’. Despite their alignment with the mainstream, they retain an appeal to some heterodox economists. We argue that this appeal is misplaced. Their theoretical work and knowledge claims rest on methodological individualism and equilibrium reasoning, which fosters an obtuse reductionism. They present a confused methodology, which seems to be motivated by a desire to remain coherent to standard economics. We show how their acceptance of methodological individualism and ergodic modelling undermines their knowledge claims as well as their declaration that history matters in their analysis.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Finch, Professor John and McMaster, Professor Robert
Authors: Finch, J. H., and McMaster, R.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > Adam Smith Business School > Management
Journal Name:Cambridge Journal of Economics
Publisher:Cambridge University Press
ISSN (Online):1464-3545
Published Online:07 July 2017
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2017 The Authors
First Published:First published in Cambridge Journal of Economics 42(3): 285-308
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the publisher copyright policy

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