I think it was the continental sociologist Weber who defined a State as that organ of a nation that has a monopoly of violence.

Economics, at least what minute fraction I know, appears to ignore violence. Does it suppose it to be the subject matter of another discipline whose existence it ignores, if so - which one - would that be politics?

  • In the last few years, I've been thinking about whether we ought to very explicitly talk about the term, economic violence. Does that term resonate with what you intend to ask, here?
    – labreuer
    Apr 11 '14 at 19:34
  • Possibly, it depends on how you are theorising that term - the violence I'm referring to above, to me is at its most basic level, is when internally directed - policing; and externally directed - warfare. For example Chinas annexation of Tibet. Apr 12 '14 at 0:33

The traditional critique of marginalist economics is that it is "autistic" (although I find this language somewhat unfortunate) in the sense that its minimal empiricism can only discover how a constants in a set of mathematical data relate to each other. Within the discipline of economics, it is considered "good" and approaching a science when it discovers things like the correlation between inflation and unemployment. In other words, it aspires to be a science by situating itself as a anti-humanism that discovers "objective" laws. Of course, as we know, its origin in classical political economy was highly ethically concerned (Malthus was a cleric, Bentham was a jurist, Smith was somewhat utopian). The only economic discourses that are ethically concerned are marginalized if not ridiculed in mainstream economics: Marxist economics, social justice oriented economics (i.e., feminist, activist, civil libertarian, etc.) and so forth. Its a sociological problem (a sociology of economics would be a very valuable program of research): economics can be used to theorize about violence in terms of economic causes and effects but the marginalists are not fond of thinking about it; for them, the tendency is to either believe that violence can only be done to markets or "the economy" through policy (the markets must be kept efficient and stable, the ethical concerns of humans are not their priority) or remain silent on ethical concerns because of a lack of authorization (it is beyond their purview) or lack of qualification to speak on the matter (they are not philosophically trained enough to infer the ethical consequences of economic facts beyond simple assumptions). However, moralizing claims seem to consistently come from economists of all stripes so it is clear that economists do not see themselves as strictly prohibited from talking about ethics or violence (consider Paul Krugman or the Tea Party discourse of "moral markets."). I suppose the tendency in the discipline itself is to leave questions of violence to sociologists and political scientists. But the segregation of the human sciences, I believe, is highly arbitrary and this division of labor is detrimental to their progress.

  • By marginalist you mean classical economics? Apr 11 '14 at 1:11
  • The question that anyone that has a glance at history is to consider what would be the economic value of Genghis Khans campaign. Apr 11 '14 at 1:13
  • I enjoyed this recent(ish) article: aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.27.4.121
    – Lucas
    Apr 11 '14 at 3:14
  • That's a pretty good article. I'm not quite sure how to run this stack exchange thing for philosophy, I'm treating my answers like a well thought out version of "well, this is my 2 cents." I guess I'll try to get some citation in the future. Apr 11 '14 at 4:15
  • @IanDelairre Sounds like a decent attitude to me... not the only decent one, but a decent one nonetheless.
    – Lucas
    Apr 11 '14 at 15:56

All I can say to this:

All is fair in love.

All is fair in business.

All is fair in war.

All is fair in politics.

Love = War = Business.

War = Violence

--> Business = Violence

There are economic and price wars. There are hostile take overs. There are different levels of violence. Economic, psychological, physical. Just because there are no bombs being thrown does not mean that there are no weapons of financial mass desctruction..


The discipline you are looking for is political economy. As explained on Wikipedia:

Political economy was the original term used for studying production and trade, and their relations with law, custom, and government, as well as with the distribution of national income and wealth. Political economy originated in moral philosophy. It was developed in the 18th century as the study of the economies of states, or polities, hence the term political economy.

Adam Smith, David Ricardo and even Karl Marx can all be described as political economists. Many professional economists today (but far from most) still engage with a political economy perspective, even though it is no longer the dominant approach.

It's worth noting that in the opening remarks of a famous lecture Max Weber referred to himself and his audience as "we political economists." So even in the early 20th century, at least in Germany, the divisions between economics, political science and sociology as separate disciplines was not so rigid as they are today. There are still many self-described political economists in academia, but they have mostly been pushed to the margins of the other disciplines.

The original question specifically asks about violence. The role of so-called extra-economic coercion is an important theme in political economy, especially for Marxists. In the first volume of Marx's Capital there is a section (Part VIII) which is called "Primitive Accumulation". This section is basically one long critique of how Adam Smith overlooked the role of violence and coercion in making the modern social division of labor possible. In addition to the primitive accumulation of capital, imperialism and unfree labor remain major topics in Marxian political economy.

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