By Austin Ranney
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Extra resources for Curing the Mischiefs of Faction: Party Reform in America
13 Take the assertion that people pursue utility. The most basic definition of utility is the narrow one associated with the nineteenth-century utilitarian, Jeremy Bentham: that utility is the pursuit of pleasure or the avoidance of pain. Such a definition is straightforward and corresponds to a commonsense understanding of economic motivation: people want to be able to consume the largest possible quantity of the good things of life. But there are numerous occasions when people pursue goals other than utility.
The edifice of free market economics is, to repeat, about eighty percent right, which is not bad for a social science and substantially better than its rivals as the basis for public policy. But the totality of the intellectual victory of free market economic theory in recent years has been accompanied by a considerable degree of hubris. Not being content to rest on their laurels, many neoclassical economists have come to believe that the economic method they have discovered provides them with the tools for constructing something approaching a universal science of man.
France at the end of the Middle Ages had a dense network of civil associations, but the French capacity for spontaneous sociability was effectively destroyed beginning in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by a victorious centralizing monarchy. Conventional wisdom maintains that Germany and Japan are grouporiented societies. "8 Much of the literature of the past decade or so on competitiveness makes a similar assumption: Japan is a "group-oriented" society; the United States lies at the other extreme as the epitome of an individualistic society, in which people do not readily work together or support one another.