Economics Department


Date of this Version

September 1987


Published by Journal of Economic Vol. XXI, No. 3, September 1987. Copyright © 1987 Journal of Economic Issues. Used by permission.


The primary focus of the institutionalist perspective is instrumentalist problem solving. Problems are delivered by the institutional process and solved by altering the social structure. To solve socioeconomic problems, planning is necessary. Important to any planning is the question of when actions and events are to occur. To effect new social structures, actions and events must be properly sequenced. An analytical core of sequencing events is time analysis. John R. Commons stated that, in addition to knowing what to do, the economist who has the power and responsibility for planning "must know what, when, how much and how far to do it at a particular time and place in the flow of events. This we designate the principle of timelines."This is not consistent with the common approach to time analysis. The more common approach leaves us at the mercy of passing time.

An experiment worth performing is to ask a group of university sophomores to take out a piece of paper and write a brief answer to the following question: What is time? In the years I have performed this experiment, only once has a student referred to what had been learned in a physics course. Again and again the students express the common bias of Western feelings regarding time. "Time is eternally passing." "Time is flowing past almost unnoticed." As one sophomore so vividly explained, "the second that is here now will soon be going over the mountains and travel on to California." Most of us are not so graphic in our explanation about passing time but most of us believe the common misconception that time is a flowing reality that is constantly passing. The common view is wrong. We have not seen time flowing by, no one has measured it flowing by, heard it, or even recorded any telltale signs of its passing, yet the Western mind continues to hold to the common view. The flowing stream of time is so vividly believed that people seriously consider that the loss of aircraft over the Bermuda Triangle could be because of warps in the time stream, and neoclassical economists seriously recommend that education should be delivered to children on the basis of the outcome of a discounted time stream.

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