Front Page Titles (by Subject) Moral Honesty in Social Science - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1981, vol. 4, No. 1
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Moral Honesty in Social Science - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1981, vol. 4, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Moral Honesty in Social Science
“Who Among Us Still Hopes To Learn about the Nature of Man?” Review Essay of C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination. Oxford University Press, 1959. University Publishing (Winter 1981):13–14.
“Who among us still hopes to learn more about the nature of man from academic psychology, about the nature of society from sociology, about individual-and-society from social'psychology?”
Professor Newton, a psychologist, poses this question in his assessment of the ongoing social and political relevance of C. Wright Mill's The Sociological Imagination (1959). Some 20 years after its publication, Mills's book still disturbs us as a critique of the moral, intellectual, and political deformations of social science methodology. Mills exposed the political commitments lurking beneath the ritualistic methodology of “abstracted empiricism.” Abandoning the intellectual breath of Marx, Durkheim, and Weber, all of whom radically sought to comprehend and critique overall social structure, the new social scientists—careerist academics—adopted an uncommitted, socially disengaged methodology of measurement and quantification which was morally myopic and politically evasive. These conventional academics' problem was to trivialize their researches with a valuefree narrow empiricism that was deliberately evasive of the social and political power. “The academic technician clings fiercely to atomizing methods be cause he senses instinctively that his political anonymity and economic comfort depends upon them.”
Mills also dissected the post World War II alliance of the abstracted empiricists in the social sciences with government power and funding. Conservative methodology of a “pluralism of causes” (rather than a general social analysis) fits well with a political quietism or politics of piecemeal reform (rather than social structural transformation). Government funding controls costly social science research and projects. “The social scientist learns to tailor his project (and his ideas) to be successful in the competition for dollars. It could be said that Washington determines not only the content of social science, but even its membership.”
Mills's critique of the then new blinkered empiricism and methodology, which evaded the root problems of society and social science, is today all the more relevant:
“Lives are in disarray, society disintegrates, and all who can see, see that history is going to kill us…families huddle before television sets…Marriages dissolve, reform, endure in soporific quietude, die in anomie. The bureaucracies in which all of us work, if we are allowed to work, exploit and abuse staff as well as clients.”
Because of its significance for a sound and stable social system and economy, scholarship dealing with economic analysis has received repeated and detailed coverage in past issues of Literature of Liberty. The current set of summaries combines both abstract perspectives (on the issues of general equilibrium, business cycle theory, subjective cost theory, the possibility of economic calculation under “market socialism) with more concrete historical and ethical studies of such topics as the history of interest group maneuvering for workmen's compensation legislation, child labor and the Factory Acts, minimum wage legislation, neo-mercantilism, and the interplay of ethical ideology and economic science. Both perspectives are necessary for understanding comprehensively and in detail the workings of any economy.
The common perspective unifying the opening group of summaries is that of the Austrian school of economics and its characteristic method of analyzing economic reality in terms of methodological individualism and the science of praxeology or human purposive action. This approach can be observed most easily in the Wiseman and Vaughn treatments of subjective cost theory. Whereas orthodox neoclassical microeconomics treats costs as if they were objective and measurable prices (which interpretation would allow social engineers to intervene, assist ailing economies, and make effective public policy recommendations through “scientific” cost-benefit analyses), Austrian-oriented economists stress the subjective, psychological interpretation of costs as nonobjective forgone “opportunity costs.” The Austrian praxelogical analysis of costs, profits, interest rate theory, money, and human action in general, is generally leery of any mathematicism on the principle that objective measurement distorts the more subjectivist, nonquantifiable reality of human valuing and purposive action. Not only do individuals possess their economic “values” in a subjectivist manner that defies intersubjective comparisons of utility, but each of their values may be in the process of changing. Human action and valuation, in short, occurs in a dynamic world of human process and “kaleidic” change, rather than a static world of unchanging physical laws. [Steven N.S. Cheung's The Myth of Social Cost (San Francisco: Cato Institute, 1980) gives an insightful treatment of costs from another perspective.]
The remaining more concrete summaries are of value for the light they shed on the workings of political economy. Of especial importance for current economic trends are Chris Tame's study of today's revival of neo-mercantilism. This study shows the perennial relevance of Adam Smith's dissection of vested interest legislation. E.G. West continues Smith's spirit by his unravelling of governmental resistance to economic science consensus in regard to the dangers of legislating a minimum wage.