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This chapter explores the evolution and contribution of social economics to modern political economic analysis. It reviews the origins and early history of social economics, discusses more fully recent postwar social economics, and then identifies new themes in social economics’ current research agenda. Social economics is distinguished from classical political economy and contemporary neoclassical and mainstream economics – and, indeed, from most other political economic approaches – by its goal of explaining and premising the concept of ‘social’ in economics. Its main organising principle is that the economy is embedded in human society rather than vice versa. Second, the chapter discusses social economists’ understanding of economic policy and their views about the relationship between ethics and economics. Their understanding of policy has two main dimensions: (i) the ‘moral limits of markets’ approach, regarding some domains of social life as ‘off limits’ to markets; and (ii) the ‘taming the market’ approach. Third, the chapter moves to key methodological issues, including the social economics critique of the positive-normative distinction of mainstream economics and the positivist view that economics should practice value-neutrality in order to be a science. Fourth, the chapter closes with a discussion of social economics’ main normative goals and social values.

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