Two rhetorical strategies of laissez-faire

Journal of Economic Methodology 11 (3):341-357 (2004)
Abstract
To understand the work of economic theorists it is often helpful to situate it in the context of the rhetorical strategy they were pursuing. Two ontologically distinct rhetorical strategies of laissez-faire may be distinguished by the way they articulate the individual interest with the general interest. A reductionist approach, exemplified by Friedman and Lucas, suggests that the properties and behaviour of an entity can be understood in terms of the properties and behaviour of the constituent lower-level components, taken in isolation. The contrary – holistic – stance, viewing the qualities of phenomena as products of the inter-relations between their component parts, is characteristic of Smith and Hayek. While the reductionist approach naturally issues in a laissez- faire policy prescription, the holistic account is more problematic. Reconciling a holistic ontology with a reductionist policy prescription requires the intercalation of a black box, such as an evolutionary process or the invisible hand of a deity.
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