Monday, March 16, 2009

Systemic thinking

I see that Citigroup's stock value is up a hefty percentage today (though the number remains remarkably low -- around 2.24). This fact brings to my mind the following question: Is the government doing the right thing in propping up Citigroup so that it will survive?

Actually, I think it's better if I ask it this way: Is the government correct to think of certain organizations as vital to the survival of the system?

Or backing up even further, what 'system' is the government thinking about? What are the structural outlines of this system? The economists in the administration, as well as those many with blogs who argue so forcefully -- what basis do they use to think about systems?

To me this is a central question. The dominant view of economic thinking is to see social organization (e.g. 'the market') as consisting just about solely as a simple aggregate of individuals with more or less uniform rationalities. Assuming this gives economists significant privileges -- like the ability to sometimes predict future behavior from past behavior, for example. However, the notion that social organization is more than the sum of its individual parts is, to this point, still, like it or not, a central tenet of sociological, not economic thought.

Or let me put it this way. It is sociology, more specifically, social theory, in any case not economics, that provides the conceptual tools to make sense of social systems.

That's why I find myself wondering who the economists are relying on to make decisions with regard to a system. Are they reading social theory? I wonder, because I doubt we can succeed in re-constructing our economy as well as we are actually capable of re-constructing it, without a solid theoretical conception of the 'system' we are trying to re-construct.

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