Fifteen years after the Global Financial Crisis: Recessions and Business Cycles in the History of Economic Thought

A qualitative and quantitative reconstruction of the concept of saving in 19th century political economy

Martini Alice, Università di Pisa
Pietrini Filippo, Università di Pisa, Dipartimento di Economia e Management

This work is a qualitative and quantitative (using computational linguistics) study on the concept of saving. We focus both on the semantic history of the word and on the role it played in economic thought, highlighting the ability that this concept has to bring out the links between political economy and religious and moral doctrines. Saving has been a somewhat overlooked theme in political economy for a long time. The classical economists identified saving mostly with investment and left aside a thorough analysis of saving behaviours, mainly focusing their attention on “productive/unproductive” consumption. They also clearly associated the idea of saving and the possibility to do it with a specific part of the society: the capitalists (or landowners or the productive class, according to different terms used). Moreover, the whole semantic sphere around the concept of saving/saving behaviours implied a positive appreciation, connected to the ‘good’ morality of those decisions and actions and to the useful outcomes it yielded. The common and widely used wording linked to saving connotated in fact positively this economic phenomenon (e.g., the virtue of saving, parsimony, frugality, prudence) and linked it ethically to the fruitful harvest that it would have brought. A fortiori, this intrinsic positive bias about the notion of saving is confirmed by the negative terms associated with the ‘immoral’ behaviours of its contrary (e.g., hoarding, imprudence, dissipation). With the huge revolution of the marginalist school, however, the concept of saving was significantly reinterpreted, together with many economic notions that were embedded in the new scientific approach to economic analysis. The new hermeneutical tools that were built placed the phenomenon of saving in the categories of the choices of the consumer and, though still strongly tied to the possibility of creating progress and growth in the economic system, saving behaviours lost part of their ethical foundation. The goal of this paper is to prove this interpretation not simply using a historical reconstruction of the evolution of economic thought during the 19th century with some hints until the end of last century, but also by offering a linguistic analysis that will show evidence of the de-moralization of the semantic sphere used to express and describe what moved around the economic dimension of saving.

Area: Eshet Conference

Keywords: Saving, computational linguistic analysis, history of political economy, ethics in economics

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