Judd W. Patton, Ph.D. (Biography) Bellevue University Online
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Book Review of Patton's 
"Missing Dimensions in Economics"

Oleg Zinam, Professor
University of Cincinnati
(Published in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies
Volume II, No. 1/2   1991)

Patton’s work is both a critique of conventional economic wisdom and an outline of his own proposed conceptual framework that may lead to a substantial overhaul of the discipline.  He argues that in the process of its historical development modern economics has lost two important dimensions.  By rejecting economic absolutism and moral principles that govern human actions, economics forfeited its metaphysical-philosophical and spiritual-moral dimensions. This loss has contributed to the fragmentation and overspecialization of economics. It also led to a narrowing of its paradigm, resulting in the present tunnel vision of the economics profession.  Another deleterious effect has been its inability to provide reliable predictions. This, in turn, weakened the purposeful guidance needed for the formulation of sound economic policies.

To support his thesis, Patton provides a brief historical review.  For Adam Smith -commonly thought of as the first modern economic theorist - political economy was a branch of moral philosophy.  Smith accepted the physiocratic concept of a divinely ordained Natural Law that regulates the affairs of men. In this view, the job of economists is to discover the harmonious natural order and follow it.  Back in 1776, the Natural Law tradition was considered a safeguard to human rights and dignity. Within this order, enlightened individuals would be guided in their effort to advance their own interests within a competitive market by an “invisible hand” toward society’s well-being as a whole.

Smith’s disciples, David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill, claimed in their labor theory of value that economic values are created by labor alone. This aspect was the weakest link in the Classical school of economic thought. It was later remedied by the contributions of Carl Menger, William Jevons, and Leon Walras. These economists formulated, independently of each other, the theory of marginal utility where the value of labor and other factors of production is derived from the value of finished goods which, in turn, is determined by utility and scarcity.

The subsequent rise of Empiricism prompted the belief that economics should also become an “exact science” just like the natural sciences, relying on the empirical method.  Concurrently, the emergence of the Humanist school forced economics to divest itself of its moral foundation and thus become “value-free.” With no place left for absolute laws, moral values, and the search for truth, economics became a never-ending process of search for mere regularities in economic activities. The adherence to such a truncated vision, combined with the economic environment created by the Great Depression of the 1930s, gave rise to Keynesian economics.  Keynesians have stressed the inherent instability of capitalism. As an antidote, they prescribed vigorous governmental intervention to maintain full employment, economic growth, and price stability.

Keynesianism passed its zenith in the 1970s.  It was challenged by Monetarism and Supply-Side economics and has been in slow retreat ever since.  In Patton’s view, the Austrian school of economics did not follow the Humanist methodology that rejected the attainment of absolute truth and accepted the supremacy of the empirical method.  Instead, the Austrian paradigm, broadened and enriched by Ludwig von Mises, redefined economics as “a body of inexorable economic principles based on the self-evident axiom that mankind acts purposefully” (p.5).  In harmony with Smith’s philosophy, the Austrian school claims that economic laws are universally true and timeless due to their logical derivation from basic assumptions about human nature.

Patton postulates, and then proceeds to demonstrate, that economic problems are primarily spiritual in origin. For Patton - a Christian economist - economic failures are ultimately caused by immoral actions which violate universal economic laws whose source is God. This restores to economics the second missing dimension. The restoration of moral laws, and their original source in economic science, is the primary purpose of what he calls “Biblical Economics.”  Patton contends that such economics must be based on spiritual laws. Crucially, the violation of these moral and spiritual laws, and the economic principles based on them, entails breaking one or more of the Ten Commandments.

In his dissatisfaction with the prevailing economic paradigm, Patton joins a venerable group of other illustrious dissidents.  Among them are, for example, members of the Historical School who criticized Classicists for narrowness of scope, excessive use of deductive, abstract and static reasoning, as well as their unwarranted claim to universality. Thorstein Veblen, on the other hand, took Classicists to task for their use of a hedonistic concept of “economic man” and a teleological preconception of a foreordained order.  Patton’s “missing dimensions” are both a challenge to the basic philosophic foundations of conventional economic analysis and an inspiration for a fresh reappraisal of the accepted theoretical framework.  Patton’s concerns reveal the need for a systematic reevaluation of an ultimate metaphysical foundation on which the whole structure of economics rests.  It also rekindles hopes for moving closer to a broader and more relevant economic science.  Patton’s proposed theoretical framework remains to be fully developed. Yet his basic missing dimensions are clearly delineated and courageously stated.

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