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Thorstein Veblen Studies in Japan: a Bibliography

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Tanaka Toshihiro
School of Economics
Kwansei Gakuin University

Presented to the Second Conference of the International
Thorstein Veblen Association, May 30-June 1, 1996
Carleton College In Northfield, Minnesota, U.S.A.


I would like to introduce briefly the Veblen studies in Japan. But the main purpose of this paper is to prepare a bibliography of them. Actually it is to give a supplement to Professors J. L. Smich and Rick Tilman, Thorstein Veblen. A Reference Guide(1985) in which only five articles written in Japanese were included, and no book on Veblen study in Japan was recorded. 1

I would like to add some explanation and comments to the bibliography: First, a historical outline of the Veblen studies in Japan. Secondly, five characteristic aspects and main points of them. And lastly, some problems of the studies in the future.

Before this it might be of use to have some general knowledge regarding the general trend of the studies on the history of economic thought in Japan, and especially of those on the history of American economic thought in order to give suggestions on the position of Veblen studies and the studies on the American institutional economics.

In Japan the study of history of economic thought has been traditionally pretty active, but the objects of it were centered on the Classical economics and Marxian economics for a long time, although recently the studies of modern economics and Japanese economic thought have become popular. And also in Japan the study of history of economic thought always has meant that of history of European economic thought as well as in other countries, and the history of American economic thought has been regarded as one of the special fields like for example that of Russian economic thought. Notwithstanding the close connection between the US and Japan since the opening of modern Japan in Meiji period, it has not given any effective stimulation to the studies of American economic thought in Japan.

Under these general trends, however, we might say that the studies on Veblen and the Institutional School are comparatively notable. Except these studies, the objects of the study in the history of American economic thought were mainly limited to A. Hamilton., T.Jefferson, `American System' economics, H. George, and J.B. Clark, etc. 2


History of Veblen studies in Japan might be generally viewed by dividing it into the following two periods. The first period is the years to 1945 from 1920's, introductory period before the Second World War. The second is the years to the present from 1945 which is said to be that of a full-scale study after the Second World War. This period might be subdivided into following four stages. 1) The beginning of a full-scale study (1945-1960's). 2) The development of it (1970's-1980's). 3) Its recent further deepening of understanding in 1990's. 4) Veblen studies viewed especially in relation to the studies of the institutional economics particularly Mitchell and Commons (l980's-1990's).

1 The first period: Introductory period before the Second World War.

This period is remarkable in the introduction of Veblen's thought by translation of his major four books.

1) The first Japanese translation of the Theory of Leisure Class by S. Ohno (I-1) in 1924, although it does not say about the positive reason of translation, nor any commentary was put to it.

2) In 1925 the Vested Interests and the State of the Industrial Arts was translated by N. Imazu (I-9). This book has many blanks [fuseji] in translation which show the severe restriction of freedom of press by the government censorship, because they were regarded to be related to a statement of socialism.

3) The translation of the Theory of Business Enterprise by Y. Inamori (I-4) in 1931 has no commentary, but its brief explanatory notes gave attention to Veblen's theory of business cycles and it highly evaluated his theory of chronic depression as the analysis of the Great Depression of the U.S.

4) In 1940 Absentee Ownership and Business Enterprise in Recent Times was translated by K. Hashimoto(I-13), which has a detailed explanatory introduction (44 pages), "Thorstein Veblen: Life and Doctrine" at the first time.

Secondly, the introduction of Veblen's thought into Japan was done through some articles in journals and a part of introductory books on the historical development of American economic thought (IV-1 5). But in this earlier period, Y. Furuya's contribution to the introduction of Veblen and the institutional economics in his distinguished first book on the general history of American economic thought (1932)(III-l), and especially in his 22 pages article entitled the Institutional Economics published independently in1932 (111-2) was very important.

2 The Second Period: A full-scale study after the Second World War

1) After the Second World War, especially since 1960's a full-scale Veblen study started in Japan. This time again, the first contribution came from the new translation of Veblen's three main books with the excellent commentary introduction by T.Ohara. Translation of the Theory of Leisure Class in 1961 (I-3), The Engineers and the Price System in 1962 (I-11), and The Theory of Business Enterprise in 1965 (I-6). In addition to Ohara's translation, S. Rikui's translation of the Theory of Leisure Class and a part of the Nature of Peace and the Terms of Its Perpetuation was published in 1956.

2) Representative Veblen studies in a book form in the stages of this period are as follows:

The first stage (l945-1960's): Ohara's Veblen(1965) and Social and Economic Thought of Veblen(1966)(III-5,6), Matsuo's Veblen and His Thought (1966)(III-7), Sasaki's Economic Methodology: Veblen and Marx (l967)(III-8) and Methodological Problems of Value Theory (1969)(III-9).

The Second stage(1970's-1980's): Matsumoto's A Study on Veblen(1971)(III-10), Nakayama's Veblen's System of Thought(l974)(III-11), Sasaki `s Institutionalists and the Classical Economic Theories(1982)(III-16), Sasano,s An Introduction to the Study on the American Institutional School: Veblen, Mitchell, and Commons(1982)(III-l7), Naito's the Structure of Veblen's Thought(1985)(III-19). Among these Nakayama's work is said to be the most important contribution in this stage.

The third stage (1990's): The most recent Veblen Study in Japan, A Study on Veblen (III-23) was published by Taka in 1991. In his book he deepened the understanding of Veblen's thought, and put forward Veblen studies in Japan, although he focused his analysis on only Veblen's two books, the Theory of The Leisure Class and the Theory of Business Enterprise.

The fourth stage, in relation to the institutional economics, especially Mitchell, Commons, J.M. Clark, Ayers, and Galbraith and so on, Veblen studies in Japan were promoted mainly in 1980's and 1990's by F. Ito's Commons Kenkyu (A Study on Commons)(l975), Sasaki's Veblen and Mitchell (edited in 1985)(III-20), Institutional Economics(1991) (III-22), The Development of Institutional Economics(l994)(III-25), Sasano's W.C. Mitchell, a Institutional Economist(1995)(III-26), and other members of Nihon University study group on the institutional economics(T. Tsukamoto, M. Sato (1988)(III-21), H. Saito, T. Okugi,etc.)

III The characteristic aspects of Veblen studies in Japan

1 The first feature viewed from research field and method.

Viewed from research field and method, Veblen studies in Japan might be divided into the following three types: 1) Studies from the history of economic and social thought, 2) Studies from the history of business administration, 3) Sociological studies.

1) Veblen studies in Japan was first opened and developed as the studies of the history of economic thought. These have formed the core of the studies. But the studies on the second stage were those from the approach of the history of business administration (Matsumoto, Okuda, etc.). This sort of approach has emphasized the continuity between Veblen and the institutional business administration. But this evaluation has been criticized. According to the critics, there is no direct continuity between the two, and yet the attitude toward capitalism by the two is in a striking contrast. The third sociological studies (e.g.. Kurahashi, Naito, Isobe, etc.) have taken up Veblen in relation to modern theory of society. Especially Veblen's theory of revolution by the engineers was paid attention from the viewpoint of the development of modern theory of society.

2) The second feature is that viewed from the activities of the academic societies in Japan that have discussed systematically Veblen's thought. They are the Society for the History of Economic Thought and the Society for Economic Sociology. In the one founded in 1950 and has about 800 members, the history of American economic thought including Veblen has been regarded as a common theme at the annual meeting only once in 1980, and the Annual Bulletin of the Society has taken up the history of American economic thought in its survey only in 1967 and 1981. The other society has taken up `Economics andSociology in the Institutional School' as the common theme and the four papers were published in its Annual Bulletin as `Veblen and the Institutional School' in 1982.

In addition to these, it is worthy of notice that Professor H. Uzawa gave an address as the President of the Japan Association of Economics and Econometrics at the annual meeting of 1989, `Thorstein Veblen and Contemporary Economics'(IV-175). He emphasized on the similar situation of economics between Veblen's time and present-day, and took up Veblen's economics as a clue to search for the new direction of modern economics.

The year 1995 was epoch-making in the Veblen studies in Japan. The Japanese Society for the History of American Economic Thought was at last founded in June, and the two papers on the institutional economics were read at the founding meeting. The activity of the society will be expected to become a core for the development of the studies on Veblen and the institutional economics in Japan.

3) The third feature of Japanese Veblen studies is related to the Veblen studies in the U.S.. Veblen studies in Japan started from giving attention to the American Vebien studies. This trend is seen in the following survey articles: For example, the papers of Ohara (IV-17) and Kawasaki (IV-1l) on 1920's-1945, the papers of Ohara (IV-33) and Tanaka IV-48) on 1945-1957, and Moriwaki's papers (IV-120,192) on 1957-1979 and on l990's.

4) The fourth feature: In relation to Marx and Marxian economics. Viewed from the concrete contents of the Japanese Veblen studies, the most important feature is the relation to Marx and Marxian economics. The relation between Veblen and Marx became an important point in the full-scale Veblen studies in Japan, especially after the Second World War. It might be said that the great attention to the relation between the two, and how to evaluate Veblen through the comparison between their thought were the greatest interest to most Veblen scholars in Japan. It is not too much to say that this feature formed the core of the Veblen studies in Japan, especially in l950's, 60's, and 70's. These studies focused on the examination of Veblen's economic and social thought, particularly on the aspect of socialistic thought. (The most typical studies in this direction were the studies by Matsuo and Matsmoto).

Matsuo discussed Veblen's thought in full-scale, but he concluded that Veblen was a socialist one step inferior to Marx. Matsumoto took a more dogmatic position of Maxian economics. These rather one-sided evaluations by the measure of Marxism formed an important position. But the limit in understanding Veblen's thought was not small.

On the other hand Ohara's study is said to be that from a liberal position although he fundamentally evaluated the position of Marxian economics too. This liberal line of Veblen study was succeeded basically by Nakayama and Taka, and it contributed to further understanding of Veblen's thought.

5) The fifth feature: The development of Veblen study through the studies of the institutional economists. Veblen's economic and social thought have been studied recently in relation to or in contrast to the studies of the institutional economists such as Commons, Mitchell, and others. This line of studies gave more light to Veblen's historical place in the thought from a different viewpoint.

IV The five main points in the Veblen studies in Japan

Veblen studies in Japan has focused on the following five main points. 1) Veblen's methodology of economics, 2) Veblen and Marx, 3) Veblen's view of capitalism, 4) Veblen's view of revolution by engineers, 5) Veblen's place in the history of economic and social thought.

1 Veblen's methodology of economics

The Darwinian theory of evolution in Veblen, and his views of positive human being, and the understanding of the connection between the two have been the important point of Veblen's methodology. In the full-scale studies by Marxian position, however, Veblen's views on active humankind through the analysis of `instincts' was not taken up sufficiently, because of their rather dogmatic Marxian point of view. On the other hand, Ohara emphasized on the background of the 20th century American capitalism, and opened the way for further inherent studies of the uniqueness of Veblen's thought. Then Nakayama took the same line as Ohara's, and tried to understand more systematically the relation between the theory of evolution and the views of active humankind, or the relation between `instincts' and `institutions'.

In the trend of these studies, Sasaki pointed out the primary and essential importance of Hegelian dialectics rather than Darwinism to understand the nature of Veblen's methodology. Taka, on the other hand, noticed the ignificant influence of Spencer on Veblen through the examination of Veblen's articles in his earlier period. He did not agree with Sasaki's view that Hegelian dialectics was the essential point to understand Veblen's methodology.

2 Veblen and Marx

Veblen and Marx, as I pointed out, was one of the most distinct feature of the studies in Japan. Veblen was evaluated especially n comparison with Marx mainly from the Marxian point of view. They emphasized Marx's influence on Veblen, and regarded Veblen as a pioneer of Marx studies in the U.S., and stressed on the close connection between them. They concluded that Veblen was a socialist one step inferior to Marx. According to Matsuo and Matsumoto, Veblen did not give the analysis of the basic structure of capitalism in which the surplus value is produced. This was the most essential defect of Veblen's economic analysis of capitalism. Taking up this topic, Nakayama stressed the significance of Veblen's critique of natural-right system which was rather neglected by the Marxist approach. Nakayama, however, also did not forget to point out the aspect of the productive powers in Veblen's economic thought. He also emphasized Veblen's critique of Marx's methodology and his economic theories that were neglected almost completelyby the Marxists. In this point Ohara noticed Veblen's unique vlsion of social change in the American background which was different from Marx's.

Contrast to the Marxian evaluation in this point, Sasaki highly evaluated Veblen's critique of Marx both in his methodology and in his economic theories. His point was to point out the limits of Marxian economics. But in his studies, it is said that Veblen's economic theories themselves were not sufficiently examined.

Taka in this point, like Nakayama, noticed the aspect of productive powers in Veblen too. But he regarded Veblen's socialistic thought as an unique theory which was constructed to have the possibility of change of social and economic system, although Veblen recognized the limits of the labor movement and the movement of socialism in the U.S. at his time.

3Veblen's view of capitalism

Ohara emphasized on Veblen's dualistic analysis of 'industry' and 'business' as a conflicting structure, and evaluated that Veblen's unique analytical interest of capitalism was in capitalism on the stage of monopoly.

Matsumoto agreed that Veblen's view of capitalism was one of the critiques of American monopolistic capitalism. But his final evaluation of Veblen in this point was the dogmatic criticism from Marxian point of view.

Recognizing this aspect in Veblen's views, Nakayama pointed out that the important point was how we evaluate Veblen's view of capitalism from the background of American capitalism at his time. He then could understand Veblen's analysis as the theory of capitalism that gave an insight into the reality of American society at that time. Thus moneymaking activity was regarded as the most important nature of capitalism.

The most weak point of the studies in Japan was, as Taka emphasized, the concrete economic analysis of American capitalism at Veblen's time. He then took notice of the importance of Veblen's theory of loan credit and corporation, and paid a sharp attention to the American credit system, the concrete historical process of the formation and development of monopoly in the 19th century U.S., and Veblen's process of theorizing them. According to Taka, Veblen's economic analysis was to show the necessity of the shift to the stage of monopoly, but also its most important point was to build up the theory of chronic depression that was the unique tendency of capital accumulation on the monopolistic stage.

4Veblen's view of revolution by the engineers

Veblen's view of the revolution by the engineers has attracted much attention especially from the side of Marxian economics. But with regard to the evaluation of it and its contemporary sifnificance, there are different opinions.

According to Matsumoto who stressed on Marxian position most dogmatically, Veblen regarded the engineers as a middle class, and the revolution by the middle class is not the abolition of private property system, nor the real revolution of economic system as a whole. Emphasizing on its conservativeness, he said that Veblen's vision of social change was that within the framework of capitalism. This was not different from the view of the managerial reform.

Matsuo recognized the socialistic direction of revolution close to Marxism in Veblen's vision of social change, and understood that Veblen's view of revolution by the engineers was one of the views of the type of the advanced nations which aims at socialistic revolution in the highly developed American capitalism. But according to him, the fundamental weak point of Veblen's view of social revolution is that Veblen could not see through the contradiction about the engineers themselves, namely the separation of the engineers into management and labor as management becomes a specialized technique. It was Veblen's mistake that he regarded the conflict between the enterprisers and the engineers as the fundamental conflict in the American society.

On the other hand, Nakayama criticized Matsumoto and agreed with Matsuo. He said that Veblen aimed at the aufheben of the system of private enterprise. He tried to make clear the difference between Veblen and Marxism in this point through the systematic understanding of Veblen's thought.

Ohara's understanding in this point is different. Veblen's view of the revolution by the engineers was understood as that of technocracy. Although he recognized an aspect of socialistic characteristics in Veblen, he insisted on that it was a misunderstanding to regard Veblen as a radical socialist or to understand him as a thinker who expected the radical downfall of the system of absentee ownership. According to him, Veblen's aim was 'the technical social reform in a sense'. Veblen was a pioneer of technocracy.

Taka, in his recent study, is critical of Ohara's understanding from technocracy, but on the other hand he is also critical to Matsuo. Matsuo pointed out Veblen's high evaluation of Russian Bolshevism and its influence on Veblen's idea of revolution by the engineers. But Matsuo did not show any concrete demonstration for it.

5Veblen's place in the history of economic and social thought

Veblen's place in the history of economic and social thought has been discussed mainly from the following two points of view in Japan. The one is from the Marxian position and the other from the viewpoint of the relation to the Institutional School.

With regard to the views in relation to Marxism, we might say that there seemed to be the approach that tried to place Veblen in the history of economic and social thought in relation to socialistic thought. Matsuo and Matsumoto took the Marxian position as the absolute measure, and found out socialistic elements in Veblen's thought. Only by this measure Veblen was given his historical place. Veblen's critique of Marx and Marxism therefore was misunderstanding. Veblen is evaluated as a socialist thinker just one step inferior to Marx.

On the other hand, Ohara's evaluation is more elastic and liberal. He did not lose sight of Veblen's unique significance. Nakayama was also familiar with Marxian economics, and did not neglect the examination of Veblen's thought from this point of view. But he did not justify the Marxian evaluation by Matsuo and Matsmoto. He seemed to evaluate Ohara's approach, although there remains anibiguous points. Nakayama's fundamental position was to try to evaluate Veblen's thought more demonstratively along the liberal line of thought like Ohara's.

The evaluation from the viewpoint of the relation to the Institutional School is also separated in opinion. Matsuo and Matsumoto criticized the evaluation by J. Dorfman, A.Gruchy, and Harter. Both were against the evaluation that equates Veblen's socialistic position which aims at the aufheben of private property system with the position of social reform by the Institutional School.

According to them, the institutional economics has no distinct common methodology and theory as a school. They insisted on that there were almost no common aspects between Veblen and the Institutional School. Veblen thought that the decay of profit-making business enterprise was historically inevitable, and that capitalism would be replaced by other systems, and therefore he did not have any interest in the social reform to try to preserve a capitalistic system. In contrast to this, the institutional economics and business administration have a strong tendency of social reformism and the characteristics to defend capitalism. In the works of Matsmoto and Matsuo, and even Nakayama in part, however, only the gap between the two was emphasized rather one sided without sufficient demonstration.

Ohara's approach on the other hand was again more flexible. He recognized a certain continuity between Veblen and the institutionalists who received a great influence from Veblen in a sense. He recognized the radical character in Veblen's thought, but he concluded from the wider perspective of the history of American economic thought that Veblen's position was finally that of a social reform based on his perception of remote possibility of the revolution in the U.S..

Based on J. Dorfman's interpretation, J. Nishikawa (IV-57,73,76) and T. Tanaka (IV-101,106,119,126,III-24) showed the direction to understand the institutional economics as an intellectual movement' including at least Veblen, Mitchell, Commons and others, although they recognized the uniqueness of Veblen's thought. This line of interpretation is followed by Taka too.

On the other hand, the line of the Marxian interpretation is followed by Sasano(III-26). According to him, Veblen's thought is 'the system beyond the capitalistic system', but the Institutional School is only a system of reform within the framework of capitalism'. This point is emphasized as the fundamental contrast between them. He went further to insist on that the institutional economists distorted and dwarfed Veblen's system of thought. In order to demonstrate this interpretation he took up Mitchell's economic thought.

Taka is critical of this view. He pointed out that Veblen was not a so-called revolutionalist. Veblen's social dynamic analysis suggests to avoid the crises of monopolistic capitalism when it was left to take its own course, and Veblen's economics in this sense is seemed to give a theoretical support to the idea of control and planning that is the one of the features of the institutional economics. From this point of view, he wrote that Veblen was not without connection with the idea of social reform, and that Veblen could be certainly placed as the founder of the institutional economics. Sasano's first book on Mitchell's economics would have a greater merit in enlarging the study of the institutional economics including Veblen, if he did not regard the simple distinction between 'the thought within the capitalistic system' and 'the system of thought beyond that frame' as the absolute criterion.

VSome problems of the Veblen studies in Japan in the future

I would like to conclude this paper by pointing out some problems of the Veblen studies in Japan in the future.

First, as I pointed out earlier, I have to do so again the weak point of the studies in the understanding of the 19th and 20th century American social and economic background itself and also in making clear the wider background of the history of social and economic thought in the U.S..

Secondly, it is getting more necessary that Veblen's thought should be taken up as a whole, not from only particular aspects of it such as economic and social thought, management thought, sociology, etc. The systematic study of Veblen's thought as a whole is most necessary one.

Thirdly, the extent of the study should be widen, not only to Mitchell but to Commons and other institutional economists. The development of Institutional School including Veblen as a whole should be given much more light.

Fourthly, the next important problem is to place the so-called `Neo-Institutionalism' in the U.S which is said to have its origin in the Neoclassical approach, such as the contributions by Coase and Williamson, etc.

And lastly, the next important task for the historians of economic thought is how we evaluate an place the new currents of European institutional economics, and how we join to this currents and exchange each other the results of research to criticize the traditional economics, and to develop the analysis and policy of the present-day economics. The further studies of the American Institutional School including Veblen should be continued especially in relation to this new currents of institutional economics in Europe. The re-examination of the uniqueness, significance, and the limits of the American institutional economics in the new direction and perspectives is most urgent work. In this direction, the real significance of Veblen study will be made clear.


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