The well known paths are easy to follow and lead into good company. Advance along them visibly furthers the accredited work which the science has in hand. Divergence from the paths means tentative work, which is necessary slow and fragmentary and of uncertain value.
As a founding father of Institutionalism in economics, Thorstein Veblen tends to be extensively critical of what economics was becoming / has become. He emphasizes the true nature of humanities and its treated subject, which is continuous and cumulative. All that past has seen somehow reflects what present shows and what future predicts. But what we can observe in modern economics is a deviation from such nature, it is the seek of an equation that describes human interactions in a simplistic manner.
Veblen starts off criticizing economics as not being able to cope with its own, extensively treated subject, and so, not complying with description of a modern science. He knew there are not more than a few economists willing to [falsely] repute themselves as founders of what could be, so to say, a fulfillment of the economic theory. Veblen was close to being certain about economics not reaching its ‘final economic truth’. Ever. And his paper is primarily about that.
He loathed rigorous, high-profiled economists. In fact, he similarly thought of all that were prejudiced and blind in their profession, or as he writes, exclusively ‘Up-to-date’ oriented. Historical economic school was far from being evolutionary too. Their ‘narrative account of industrial development’, ‘enumeration of data’ and failure to offer an alternative theory or ‘elaborate their results into a consistent body of knowledge’ discouraged him from treating the Historians as evolutionists.
Veblen commends the Classical economists for being able to offer a theory of ‘developmental relation’. He recognizes their value the constant urge after the evidence, efforts put on explaining and formulation past economic occurrences and incorporating the cause and effect in Classical theories. Nevertheless, the formulation of their theory did not comply to an ‘unfolding process’. Emphasis on‘natural law’ (the delusion of the absolute truth) over the acceptance of the sequence of events dismisses the Classical theory from being evolutionary.
Veblen argues that economics is not an exception among other sciences and of their desire for a continuous amelioration. Again, he criticizes the excessive use of a ‘natural, normal, verities and tendencies’, of ‘controlling principles and disturbing causes’ in economics. And it is here that economics deviates from being evolutionary. It was mainly Classicals that were assuming the normal and natural state, the ends to which, if laissez-faire, all should gravitate. The idealistic manner in which such theories are conducted serves as ‘the canon of truth’. Within the pursuit of equilibratory forces, Veblen had recognized the deductive method that enabled ‘a body of logically consistent propositions concerning the normal relations of things - a system of economic taxonomy. At its worst, it is a body of maxims for the conduct of business and a polemical discussion of the disputed points of policy.’
Economics yet have not been able to accept their position of being not-accurate [in a perpetual, permanent sense] and economists are far from formulating their body of knowledge in an appropriate manner. Almost hundred years ago theoretical development was, as it is currently, completely subordinated to the frames of industrial community, not able to grasp the cumulation of societal understanding. And in communities alike, it is not ‘the physical properties of material accessible to men’ that change, it is the human nature, its successive appetite of social recognition and consequential perpetuity of advance. ‘... and it is here, therefore, that the motor forces of the process of economic development must be studied if they are to be studied in action at all. Economic action must be subject matter of the science if the science is to fall into line as an evolutionary science.'
Veblen dismisses the Austrians for their faulty conception of human nature. Although systematically following the sequence of a process by defining a certain phenomena of their expertise, their passively determined hedonistic conception of a man [walking-talking utility calculator] is substantial misstep. A human subject is perceived as an island within society, unbiased of its influences. Each for themselves, static and balanced in timeless equilibrium. Nevertheless, contemporary research in humanities proved the contrary. ‘He is not simply a bundle of desires that are to be saturated by being placed in the path of the forces on the environment, but rather a coherent structure of propensities and habits which seeks realization and expression in an unfolding activity. … The economic life history of the individual is a cumulative process of adaptation of means to ends that cumulatively change as the process goes on, both the agent and his environment being at any point the outcome of the last process.’
As it was explained above, the change generally derives from a change in social institutions, even in a mechanical process of industrial world. All is driven by a human desire, unless conditioned by a force majeure. Thus, an economic activity is always purposeful and so, evolutionary. There is no room for an equilibrium of any kind, or a steady state, as man will never allow it. It would not be virtuous to strive for such position when growth (not solely industrial) is fueled by a turbulent human nature.
What seems to be evolutionary in economics is the fact that activity derives from a process of economic institutions, shaping the environment conditioned by economic interests. But why economics has not followed an evolutionary path? Fashionable perception of hedonistic [utilization] manner in a human and resultant individual interests of their utility does not leave a room for ‘a cumulative growth in habits and thought, and does not provoke, even if it did lend itself to, treatment by evolutionary method.’
Veblen finishes with a concern. Economists are, as he describes them, as well ‘the creatures of habits and propensities given through the antecedents, hereditary and cultural, of which he [economist] is an outcome.’ Veblen predicts economics might, following a causal sequence, slowly be gaining on intellectual monopoly, introverting itself both in an interdisciplinary manner, as in closing dialogues among different economic paradigms.