by the Sandwichman
The problem with 'critique', as Emery Roe pointed out, is that in practice critique serves to intensify uncertainty because it doesn't offer a clear alternative. Thus critique may inadvertently increase pressure to hold onto familiar scenarios, no matter how discredited they may be. A counter-narrative conceives of a rival hypothesis and policy options.
The case I have been essaying in a pair of recent posts -- Not Working is Another Subject and Is Economic Man Parsimonious? -- is that the working time literature constitutes a counter-narrative to the standard 'story' that dominates economics. That standard story is not an analysis per se, a methodology or even a set of assumptions. It is more like a disposition -- an arrangement of scenic, character and action elements that renders the subsequent argument familiar and believable. The framing narrative determines whether a specific argument will seem reasonable or not. Thus it functions as effectively to exclude non-conforming arguments as to certify respectable ones.
The construct of Economic Man has been defended on grounds of 'simplicity' (or parsimony), even though it is only superficially simple. It has been critiqued to death... but to little avail. HESCI, or Persona parsimoniae, is at least as parsimonious as Economic Man.
Economic Man has a complete set of preferences and chooses rationally the most efficient means to maximize utility. Persona parsimoniae has two different kinds of preferences -- organic needs and aspirations for social distinction. The means for satisfying those desires are limited absolutely, not just transiently, by physical laws and/or social institutions. And utility is mostly a function of habit [and emulation] rather than calculation.
There you have it. The counter-narrative. Did the earth move for you? Or are you asking, "is that all there is?" Just in case it's the latter, I continue...
The characteristics I have just now ascribed to Persona parsimoniae are neither deductive nor arbitrary. They were transmitted culturally in a discourse tradition. That is to say they were told and retold from generation to generation. That doesn't make them 'true' any more than the telling and retelling of the features of Economic Man validates the truth of the latter's features. It does, however, suggest that they are both comprehensible and believable, at least to some audiences.
There are important corollaries to the main features of Persona p. that are specific to the issue of working time. For example, better rested workers are able to be more productive and also both wiser and more expansive in their consumption behaviors. That observation might suggest that Economic Man is more like a sub-species of Persona parsimoniae whose hours of labor have already optimized. Or to put it more panoramically, Economic Man is that lucky duck for whom the basic economic problem of subsistence is "no problem".
The narrative paths taken by Economic Man and Persona parsimoniae, respectively, differ in interesting ways. Each can be represented by a circular flow diagram relating the elements of accumulation/investment, production, income/consumption and leisure/disposable time. The standard story assigns priority to accumulation and investment, which enhances productivity leading to increased incomes and the potential choice of leisure. The counter-narrative posits leisure as the foundation for increased income and consumption, which thus drives productivity gains and, consequently, accumulation and investment.
Each path incorporates its own version of a digression from the circuit. In the standard story, leisure represents a sort of exit from the economic circuit. In the counter-narrative, accumulation beyond some natural limit leads to superfluity: waste, a crisis of over-production or the destruction of value through war or the proliferation of luxury consumption for parasitic functionaries and the idle rich.