It is not the iron laws of capitalism, but the purposive actions of economic actors and the inertia of capitalist institutions that drive economic and social change, for better or worse.

The ultimate question guiding Professor of Economics Janet Knoedler's scholarship has been to understand and interpret in today's terms the alternative visions of the economy that derive from the original institutional economists. Institutionalists envision the purpose of the economy as being to serve the broad public interest by provisioning all of its members with sufficient resources to afford a "good life" rather than the more commonly professed goal of allocating scarce resources among competing ends, which may exclude some from that so-called "good life."

In that regard, Knoedler has used the ideas of Thorstein Veblen, John Maurice Clark and Karl Polanyi, to name a few of the leading original institutionalists, to understand many of the key institutions in our modern economy, including corporations, labor, and the media.

"I have tried to demonstrate that achievement of economic outcomes that serve the broad public interest result not from the workings of impersonal market forces, but emerge only through a democratically engaged citizenry and an activist government responsive to their citizenry," Knoedler says. "In other words, it is not the iron laws of capitalism, but the purposive actions of economic actors and the inertia of capitalist institutions that drive economic and social change, for better or worse."

Knoedler teaches a foundation seminar in the Society and Technology Residential College, which has been her favorite teaching experience at Bucknell University.  She also teaches courses for the economics department and is developing new classes on the history of economic thought, religion and economics, and the economics of the Great Depression.

"I am especially excited about the opportunity to teach integrated perspectives courses, perhaps on art and economics, for the new college core curriculum in the College of Arts and Sciences," she says.

Knoedler is part of a group of Bucknell faculty members that helped launch the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP), an initiative that supports interdisciplinary teaching and scholarship at Bucknell.  She is passionate about the need for greater scholarly and citizenry attention, especially in this time of economic and environmental crisis, she says, and is enthusiastic about the opportunities afforded through BIPP to educate students and the public about the important policy debates of our day.

Posted Sept. 13, 2010

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