Judgements of value
Whether a certain field of study is a description of nature or about judgements of value is an important distinction. Fields of studies concerning the states of nature or universe contain falsifiable propositions. These existential propositions are either true or false evidenced through logic and experimentation.
On the other hand, studies concerning judgements of value are not deniable in terms of opposing judgements of value. Opposing judgements of value stand on its ground and constitute distinct judgements of value. Judgements of value concern personal opinion of preferences, likeability, tastes etc. The falsification of a person's preference is possible only if the former has erred in his communication by using a false choice of words or through deliberate intention conveyed a judgement of value he doesn't hold. Such falsification, therefore, is not universal truths since it concerns only with the 'truth' of one person.
For our further study, we will exclude those judgements of value, which are unattainable. Such as a wish to live in the Eden of garden or to be wishing sunny weather when it is, clearly, wintertime. These judgements of value have a high cost or practically impossible.
The reason to exclude impossibilities is to deal with other predominant spheres of judgements of value that springs humans to act. The judgements of value are desirable "places" that humans want to be in comparison to the current 'place' that he is in. The valuations are discernment of his present situation in comparison with the desired situation. The latter's value exceeds the former. To reach the desired situation (ends), he employs time and resources (means).
We are interested in fields of studies that objectively deal with the action of human. History is one such where the historian attempts to narrate the events, the people, the judgements of value held by the people, places etc. In writing history, the historian's personal judgements of value - based on today's environment should not corrupt his historical account. Validation of certain aspects of history - such as relics - can become a sphere of scientific expedition ('descriptions of nature' described in the opening paragraph). But for the most part, History is an account of personal valuations of people in a time devoid of any valuation rendering by the historian.
There is no absolute value
All judgements of value are subjective. One's preferences are personal. They differ from other individuals and differ with his preferences on the same matter at different points in time. It's futile to argue with anyone over the superiority of one preference over another as subjective valuations are not falsifiable. A statement such as ".... despite all the arguments... I prefer xyz..." is sufficient rebuttal because "I prefer" is a dead-end in such arguments.
The test applicable to existential propositions that result in falsifiability of the proposition cannot be extended to personal preferences since these are judgements of value.
Yet, subjective valuations are influenced by the social environment of an individual. A pure set of ideals (such as Hegelian idealism) where thoughts exist independent of material (materialism) isn't the case with personal valuations. Valuation are both driven by as well as drive the environment. Therefore in the subjectivity debate, one doesn't succumb to the Hegelian idealism of the mind being the sole source of one's preferences.
Judgements of value are tied to the person asserting his degree of preference of some state. The state itself does not prepossess a measurable valuation. A man's preference for it is in contrast to some other thing or state. This means valuation is not in an intrinsic thing. Value emerges only when a state or thing comes in contact with a human. A nature devoid of man will continue in existence in the absence of ascribed values. The gradation of things or states at different points in time by humans is what creates subjective valuation and impels him to act. Therefore subjective valuation may lead to attaining a definite end. Indifference among ends may be possible due to the same degree of valuation; therefore uniqueness of valuations is not a precondition. This may result in a state of inaction as the values may be indifferent between his current state and a future state - both of which he holds to the same degree of valuation. This too is a subject of human action despite there being no physical action since a mental choice of subjective ends is still a component of human action.
A caution one must exercise when dealing with expressions of subjective valuations is the limitation of language employed by the valuer. Preference for one state or thing may mean to include absence of all other states. Being healthy includes the absence of diseases and so on. Freedom to trade means the absence of inter-state restrictions of the citizens of a country to travel anywhere within the country and freely conduct business. Freedom of Press means the absence of government ownership of media organisations or the absence of censorships.
Language may have a grammatical construct that has a predisposition for simplistic employment. Choices are gradation of several ends facing men. Yet, the most highly valued among these are displayed in relative preference to all other choices as though the latter constitutes a single state. Such dualistic representations are unnerving to some people who then challenge such notions or present some mythical, inexorable contradictions purportedly existing in all forms of nature. However, the subject of human action necessarily involves preferences - whether those are conveyed in dualistic or trinal linguistic expression.
We will now consider the position of economics - whether it's a judgement of values or a field of study in existential propositions.
The field of economics
The common understanding of the field of economics is rife with confusion. For some, it ought to be like the sciences, exhibiting valuation indifference regarding the ends being pursued. Yet, others blame economics for its neutrality, wherein it could guide people towards more desirable and appropriate ends. Such impartiality serves none, is the plea.
Such confusion has crept in largely due to the language employed by the economist and an inadequate restating of problem-solution in hand. When an economist denounces a policy m because it has undesirable effects, in reality, what he means is m would not lead to the end x which is the original motive. However what gets disseminated is that economists are not in support of x, which not only misstates the position of the economist, but a false bias in economics gets conveyed.
For instance, a minimum wage policy (m) would not lead to higher wages for workers (x). A previous post [The Effect of Minimum Wages on the Economy] explains why minimum wage laws harm employees and employers and cause a reduction in total output. Similarly, economists oppose tariffs on goods (m) as a means to protect domestic markets (x) since free-trade results in the expansion of the supply of goods and therefore those who wish to enhance the choice of consumers ought to impose no-tariffs. If the problem-solution had been stated differently, viz that tariffs are required to save local jobs (x), the direction of investigation might have been different.
To call a particular policy good (free-trade) or another bad (minimum wages) would tantamount to passing judgements of value which is not the purpose of economics. The theory of comparative costs (Ricardo), fundamentally states that by enhancing human cooperation and increasing societal bonds, man can increase the supply of goods necessary for consumption. It does not postulate any other end such as the security of a nation or that free-trade is suitable under all circumstances. Those ends (other than increased supply of goods) may require a different set of means, which economics through its study of human action could investigate.
Rationality of choices
There is often an allegation that while economics presupposes man to be pursuing only material well being, in reality, man is motivated by ideals, beliefs in certain myths and other 'irrational' ends.
Economics does not postulate that man pursue only 'rational' ends of material well being. In fact, there are no categories of 'rational' and 'irrational' pursuits within economics. Economics is a study of human action and the purposeful behaviour of man for attaining ends chosen, irrespective of value-judged nature of those ends.
It is no doubt that economics believes that unhampered markets, cooperation, societal bonding, liberty, private property rights etc., enhance production and supply of material goods. And, society and the human race has vastly progressed as a result of discovering the benefits of industrialization, cooperation etc. Man has been guided by the idea that to attain various ends, isolated human action would be extremely hard or futile, but through cooperation those ends are attainable. The market economy is nothing but a collective of men who have come together with this aim. This social cooperation could also be attained by fiat - through subordination. But, compulsion or force has had less than desired results such as in the case of the feudal society. It's only through the realisation of benefits under a free-market system that man has demanded complete freedom of his human action.
Thus, while economics believes in the essential ingredients for material well being, it by no means stands in judgement of what man should aim for. Although it is a question of fact as to what all the men in the world desire - opposition makes no such supporting empirical evidence of man's ultimate ends. Those philosophies are grounded in making judgements of value on behalf of all men. They presuppose that equality of results is what all men aim for even though some may legitimately desire equality of opportunity - since the latter will have other unintended consequences.
Those unintended consequences are the field of study of economics because anything that leads to diminished human cooperation can lead to questions of continuity of civilization. While economics certainly seeks to provide answers in these areas and provide teachings and warnings, it is, again, not in judgement of valuations of men - whether they aim for mythical idealism or material well being. In economics, the value-neutrality is clear.
Restating these arguments, fundamental cooperation and the spontaneous order that arises are economic recommendations unless improving the material standards of living are not aspired for. Also, unlike other systems, there is no belief in a mythical entity behind the efficacy of spontaneous order. The historical evidence simply attests that societal bonding serves humanity better.
Doctrines such as socialism are anti-liberal, dogmatic systems that subject people to its judgements of value. Accordingly, an equal standard of living ought to be aimed at regardless of the absolute level of that measure. Whether such an end is a rational objective is not in the purview of economics.
Socialism (also its earlier form Marxism) thrives by linguistic obfuscation. While it's evident that individuals cooperate as a means to achieve ends, the collective action or collectivization may be called socialisation of the market economy. But there is no separate being called the society. Yet, social sciences have isolated 'society' as to mean something other than collectivization of free individuals.
They purport to give society a mythical form with its means-ends framework and a set of action-reaction phenomena which could be effectively governed by a group of men.
Human cooperation works only when it is voluntary. An individual enters 'society' only to trade his goods and services for the materials offered by other members of society. He places higher subjective value on those goods that are in the possession of other individuals, thereby, resulting in an exchange. But for this differential valuation and freedom of cooperation, there would be no 'society' to speak of. Forced cooperation is an oxymoron. Differential subjective valuations cannot be forced on the minds of individuals. Therefore, the subordination of markets is bound to fail. Violence and totalitarianism emerge in response to people's intolerance to subordination.
In contrast, the market economy did not emerge as a thought product of any one individual. The dissatisfaction with feudal society led people to produce for themselves. Capital accumulated gradually. The benefits of human cooperation were slowly realised. Civil wars and other milder forms of protest eked out freedom for cooperation and liberation from bondage. Isolating a single period in history and calling it the 'rise of capitalism' or the 'industrial revolution' is all part of mythical explanations and not reality.
Above are the fundamental postulates of economics.
Socialists and interventionists who impose their judgements of value are dismissive of economics for its supposed ends of material prosperity. Economics merely derives its supposed ends from what the majority of men would want, evidenced by their flourishing under cooperation, compared to periods of history where men lived under penury and slavery. If it is yet true that men desire idealisms opposed to material well being, well, then, those are new ends that society must pursue. It needs to be only borne in mind that a gradual liquidation of civilization will thus have begun, and equalisation of results would have consequences not foreseen by the interventionists.
Logical reasoning to counter the mythical claims of opposing doctrines usually go unsatisfactorily answered. They resort to claims of polylogism (a term attributed to Von Mises who countered this doctrine), that is, different classes of people having different thought structures such as worker class versus owners or between people of different nations or between races. A scientific submission would certainly disprove such claims.
Even contrary evidence in society - such as workers rising to become workers - have logically countered such mythical claims. Or the claim about 'social capital' or 'material productive forces'. There is no such thing as a social capital 'loosely hanging in the cobweb of society'. Capital is held by individuals and individuals through institutions. Similarly, there are no undefined material productive forces: there only tools and machines created by individuals acting based on non materialistic ideas. We will postpone elaborating on the counters against similar claims such as dialectical materialism to another post.
Suffice to say now that there are no categorical claims that fundamentally impregnate the position and teachings of economics. Socialist and interventionist doctrines not only force judgements of value on people but are backed by sub-doctrines that need separate rebuttals.
As for economics, a judgement of ends was never made since its original development through the Classical school to the modern form of economics. Economics understands the subject of human action - that is, action leads to certain results. The overarching lessons from the progress of human civilization through cooperation and bonding needs to be borne in mind in any debate that presupposes man's goals.