Institutional Analysis

Cooley held with Veblen that systems of economic values, more particu-larly pecuniary values, are institutional in character, that "their immediatesource is a social mechanism, whatever their indirect relation to human naturemay be." The market is to Cooley an institution just like the church or theschool. He therefore argued that it is futile to discuss economic values withoutreference to their institutional matrix and antecedents. More particularly, heurged that in the study of pecuniary values it would be fruitful to pinpointthe ways in which control by dominant classes shapes institutions such as themarket. In agreement with Veblen, and in contradistinction to the classical ap-proach in economics, Cooley urged his students to see that the industrial sys-tem is not a self-adjusting mechanism, but a complex of institutions shaped byhabit, custom and law, and "administered by a class, which will largely con-trol its operation."

Earlier historians of institutional economics tended to put Cooley's namenext to Veblen's as a major contributor to that branch of economic theory.His name no longer looms as large in this field--in fact, he is not even men-tioned in the article on institutional economics in the International Encyclope-dia of the Social Sciences. The reason for this is that he did not go beyondVeblen in his institutional analysis and, although he used an institutionalterminology and approach, his contributions to the subject matter consistedmainly of generalities. Cooley will probably rate only a footnote in futurehistories of economics. But the chances are high indeed that no history ofsociological thought will fail to take into account the man to whom we owethe twin notions of the looking-glass self and the primary group.

From Coser, 1977:313.


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