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Postindustrial Possibilities

Postindustrial Possibilities: A Critique of Economic Discourse

FRED BLOCK
Copyright Date: 1990
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pp619
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  • Book Info
    Postindustrial Possibilities
    Book Description:

    While it is often acknowledged that we live in a "postindustrial" age, our economic concepts have lagged far behind our postmodern sensibility. In this incisive new work, the well-known sociologist, Fred Block, sheds obsolete and shopworn economic analysis by presenting a bold, sweeping reconceptualization of the economy.Postindustrial Possibilitiesprovides a fresh understanding of the dynamics of postindustrial change while offering a roadmap for future economic thinking. Block takes as his point of departure the tired concepts of neo-classical economics which, while still dominant, fall short as tools for comprehending contemporary economic forces. In Block's mind, the failure to revise the concepts of industrial economics means that the reality of today's economy is increasingly understood as "through a glass darkly." Intent on reinvigorating thinking in this area, Block masterfully critiques the central categories of neo-classical economics, such as the market, labor, and capital. Block argues that the neo-classical tradition has obscured the fact that capitalist prosperity has been built not on "free markets" but rather on systematic constraints on market freedom. He further suggests that measurements of capital have become increasingly problematic and that the concept obscures the critical sources of productivity within organizations. In his far-reaching analysis of the Gross National Product, Block shows that there is a growing divergence between the factors that determine people's well-being and trends in measured GNP.Postindustrial Possibilitiessets forth a new intellectual paradigm that might be called "Qualitative Growth." One of its primary foci is a shift toward improved product quality and greater priority for various non-commodity satisfactions such as leisure, interesting work, economic security and a safe and clean environment. It also promotes a recognition that greater economic efficiency rests not on infusions of capital but on cooperative labor relations and on institutional reform. Wide-ranging, intellectually vibrant and lucid,Postindustrial Possibilitieswill engender controversy and debate. It is an enormous contribution that social scientists and policymakers will need to come to terms with.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91013-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Chapter One The Postindustrial Context
    (pp. 1-20)

    This is a strange period in the history of the United States because people lack a shared understanding of the kind of society in which they live. For generations, the United States was understood as an industrial society, but that definition of reality is no longer compelling. Yet no convincing alternative has emerged in its absence.

    This confusion and uncertainty is reflected in both commonsense views and social theory. Contemporary social theorists tell us remarkably little about the kind of historical era in which we live.¹ Social theorists have become preoccupied with questions of meta-theory; much theoretical debate centers on...

  5. Chapter Two Economic Sociology
    (pp. 21-45)

    This chapter lays out the foundations for the critique of economic categories that is developed in subsequent chapters. This critique is derived from the tradition of economic sociology, which has only recently reemerged as a significant area of scholarly work. Economic sociology provides a powerful means for bringing together the many criticisms of modern economics elaborated by Marxists, institutional economists, sociologists, and others.

    Two different—albeit interrelated—critiques of economics are developed here. The first is a general critique of the methodology of neoclassical economics—namely, that neoclassical economics has never provided a fully adequate understanding of the economies that...

  6. Chapter Three The Market
    (pp. 46-74)

    The central category of economic discourse is the market; it is the market that is supposed to produce a harmonious result out of the clash of competing interests. It is the market’s capacity to perform this feat that sustains the idea of a self-regulating market society in which “external” interventions in the market are to be kept to a minimum. Yet economists almost always discuss the market at a high level of abstraction; there is remarkably little discussion in the literature of the workings of actual markets.¹ When one examines the actual markets in which commodities are bought and sold,...

  7. Chapter Four Labor
    (pp. 75-119)

    The concept of labor is both the most fundamental and the most inherently problematic of all economic categories. It is the category through which economists understand most of the human input into the production process. Yet in treating the major inputs into production—labor, capital, and raw materials—in a parallel fashion, economists tend to analyze labor in isolation from the social relations in which individuals are embedded. It is not actual human beings who are an input into the production process, but one of their characteristics—their capacity to do work. But this is an inherently paradoxical strategy since...

  8. Chapter Five Capital
    (pp. 120-154)

    The concept of capital raises problems quite different from those encountered with the concept of labor. In the case of labor, it is possible to begin by examining the conditions for the efficient use of human labor. To pose the same question in regard to capital assumes what is most problematic—that we know what capital actually is. This has always been a problem, but postindustrial trends radically undermine the coherence of any existing definitions or measures of capital.

    The argument of this chapter develops in four steps. First, it is increasingly problematic to attribute output to capital inputs as...

  9. Chapter Six Output
    (pp. 155-188)

    In recent years, U.S. presidential elections have centered on the issue of whether the electorate is better off than it was four or eight years ago. While it is possible to imagine many different elements to such a comparison, the actual debate has been preoccupied with only one question—how has an individual’s or a family’s real income changed since the last election.¹ A broad and classical theme of politics—the effectiveness of the existing regime in terms of popular well-being—has been transformed and narrowed into a question about changes in income.

    This narrowing is closely linked to changes...

  10. Chapter Seven Alternatives: Qualitative Growth
    (pp. 189-218)

    It is far easier to point to the inadequacies of an existing set of categories than to develop a persuasive set of alternative categories and concepts. Making sense of social possibilities that are still only emergent in the present stretches the sociological imagination to its limits. Moreover, even when such alternatives are imagined, they usually appear abstract and utopian because they are divorced from people’s experiences. Yet the problem is circular, since people experience reality through the lenses of the earlier set of categories. In some historical transitions, an extended period of social learning is necessary before an alternative set...

  11. Index
    (pp. 219-227)