Friday, December 07, 2007

Cause vs. Motivation 2

In an earlier post, I referred to the difference between cause and motivation. In his brilliant The Political Economy of the Cotton South, Gavin Wright touches on a similar theme:
Economic interpretations of the Civil War . . . appear most often nowadays in partnership with loosely defined concepts like "modernization" . . .. This chapter argues that the current dissatisfaction with economic analysis of the war stems from an inappropriate conception of what an economic interpretation should be. No reasonable historical explanation should characterize individuals as motivated solely by the pursuit of economic gain. Nor is it reasonable to view the sections as though they were negotiating and fighting over aggregate economic costs and benefits, because the political leadership had neither the means nor the desire to calculate and pursue such collective goals. Instead, the main task of an economic interpretation should be to show how the structure of economic interests and incentives encouraged individuals to mobilize politically, and how an underlying logic of interests and coalitions led political representatives to pursue certain lines of action.

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