Cultural Lag: In the Tradition of Veblenian Economics

By Brinkman, Richard L; Brinkman, June E

The purpose of this paper is two-fold: one is to demonstrate that the concept and theory of cultural lag is in the tradition of Veblenian economics; and secondly, that while cultural lag theory delineates and explains problems, it does not necessarily provide for a means of resolution. For example, historically the theory of cultural lag has served as a basis for problem identification and dissent. Veblenian economics, however, can also serve to go Beyond Dissent and promote assent in its relevancy to the processes of institutional adjustment and amelioration. In this respect, in the promotion of assent, there is a need for the origination and innovation of a social DNA to promote a synthesis of the disparate parts of culture via instrumental knowledge. In support of this position this paper is divided into five parts as an analytical whole: (1) a survey of references to cultural lag which have appeared in the literature written by Veblenian economists; (2) a clarification of the concept and theory of cultural lag; (3) a clarification of the “what is” vis-a-vis Veblenian economics; (4) a conflation between cultural lag theory and Veblenian economics; and, (5) the need for synthesis in the formation of a social DNA.

Cultural Lag: A Literature Search among Veblenian Economists

Both Clarence E. Ayres and Allan G. Gruchy, certainly considered bona fide Veblenian economists, were instrumental in keeping alive and maintaining a slender thread of scientific DNA for Veblenian economics during the post-WWII era. A question that arises, however, is how then did these two recognized doyens of Veblenian economics address and treat the concept and theory of cultural lag? Based upon his focus on culture and a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to Veblenian economics, in many instances Gruchy addressed the framework of cultural lag. “Institutionalists from Veblen on have been aware of the problem of cultural lag and in general have favored a policy of some form of collective management of the economic system” (Gruchy 1987, xiii). This position emanates from the fact that Gruchy, along with many other Veblenian economists, gave pride of place to the anthropological, holistic conception of culture.

Specifically with respect to Veblen, Gruchy stated that “Veblen explains that institutions and the culture in which they are embedded change over time in response to changes in science and technology . . . Since all institutions do not change at the same rate, social or cultural lags develop” (Gruchy 1972, 21). Also, “[i]n working out his concept of class organization, Veblen introduced the concepts of the cultural lag and class conflict. According to his theory of culture the most important single factor that alters institutions, and hence human behavior, is technological change” (Gruchy [1947] 1967, 78). Problems arise, though, because not all classes are equally exposed to the changing technological conditions. This causes different rates of psychological adjustment among the classes, leading to cultural lags that affect cultural standards. “Where classes have different institutional standards and mental habits, their members find themselves acting at cross purposes” (78).

Gruchy, in his chapter on “Experimental Economics of Rexford G. Tugwell” discussed the concept of cultural emergence and its association with the concept of cultural lag. Cultural lag has “come to have a prominent place in the thinking not only of Tugwell but also of the other exponents of economic heterodoxy … Cultural emergence is not a gradual, uninterrupted process; instead it is a spotty development in which certain cultural elements, such as institutions and social attitudes, fail to change as rapidly as other elements. This uneven cultural development creates lags which are the source of many serious social and economic problems” (Gruchy [1947] 1967,415).

And on the neoinstitutionalists which include among others John Kenneth Galbraith and Clarence Ayres, Gruchy claimed that “[t]he logic of economic development constructed by the neoinstitutionalists calls attention to the lags in the evolution of society’s institutional structure as this structure responds slowly to changes in society’s technological foundation” (1972, 297). On Galbraith, in particular, Gruchy reported that “[t]he key to an understanding of Galbraith’s economics of opulence or affluence is his concern with technological change and its impact on institutions and the minds of men” and “man is the victim of a cultural lag” (134, 136, and 137, 138, 169).

Ayres certainly emphasized the concept of culture. In fact, his theory of the economy and economic development constitutes a theory of culture evolution. Culture “exhibits two aspects; namely, the institutional (or ceremonial) aspect and the technological aspect. The institutional aspect of human culture … is resistant to change and development. It is restrictive and backward looking, and seeks to preserve existing class arrangements and restrictions . . . the cultural process is continuously affected by the lag between institutional and cultural change” (Gruchy 1972, 95-96). Outmoded institutional arrangements cause many social problems because they become obstacles to a satisfactory adjustment between the institutional and technological aspects of culture.

Other Veblenian economists, as well as Marxian economists, have recognized Veblen as a cultural lag theorist: “The culture of the old generation is devalued and demeaned as a result, creating the generation gap-a kind of cultural lag” (Dugger and Sherman 2000, 55; 1997, 1007; Hodgson 2004, 372,192).

Rick Tilman cited “Veblen’s theory of cultural lag in which institutions and science and technology are perpetually in a state of maladjustment with each other” (1990, 966). ‘ The correspondence between John Dewey and Ayres indicates that they were both concerned with how to address the problem of cultural lag. Tilman, again, in another article reported that “(i]n recent years many political theorists have continued to concern themselves with traditional issues of political philosophy, issues which have less and less relevance in an industrial society undergoing sustained technological innovation and beset by problems arising from cultural lag … problems of adjusting political institutions to a rapidly evolving technical-industrial base” (Tilman 1968, 423).

William Glade noted that “Veblen’s contribution to the theory of cultural lag lies in his keen analysis of the basic dichotomy of the social complex-technology and ceremonialism-an analysis which goes far beyond the usual studies of the phenomenon of cultural lag and deals with the underlying aspects of society” (1952, 436). John Gambs commented on Veblen’s Gestalt in which “today’s Gestalt may contain left-over elements from yesterday’s Gestalt. Thus there can be culture lags, and these culture lags may be of great significance” (1946, 25). Paul Bush, in his article on “The Theory of Institutional Change” introduces three types of ceremonial encapsulation. Bush related cultural lag to the first type, which he labeled “the ‘past-binding’ type. The first type of ceremonial encapsulation for which the term ‘cultural lag’ is most appropriate involves the ‘past-binding’ resistance of the traditions of the community to the absorption and diffusion of technological innovations” (1987, 1094).

Also, “[tjhe concept of culture lag, which Veblen used to analyze social processes, has been widely used by American sociologists to account for both social change and social problems … The cultural lag approach has been one of the master concepts of modern social analysis” (Davis 1968, 304-05). This brief summary of the literature indicates that many bona fide Veblenian economists have addressed the concept and theory of cultural lag. But what then is meant by cultural lag?

Toward a Clarification of the Concept and Theory of Cultural Lag

What follows in this section of our paper is primarily an analysis of William Ogburn’s concept and theory of cultural lag. It appears that “… Ogburn’s analysis was widely used in institutionalist’s circles” (Hodgson 2004, 372; Bush 1987, 1113). But neither Ogburn nor Veblen, nor will anyone else, provide a final or absolute theory of cultural lag. Science in its evolution constitutes an ongoing and continuous process of questioning, critique, and doubt. Consequently, the theory of cultural lag will itself continue to evolve and take on new forms and structures. For example, C. Wright Mills is an obvious supporter of Veblenian economics: “THORSTEIN VEBLEN is the best critic of America that America has produced” (Horowitz 2002, 107; Veblen 1970, vi, Introduction). Yet Mills introduced additional perspectives on the Veblenian as well as the Ogburnian concept and theory of cultural lag.

Mills recognized Veblen as a cultural-lag theorist, but in addition also noted that the theory not only relates to a response to an acceleration of culture that must be considered. “One might say that in terms of the rates of change at which sectors of culture could move, it is technology that is lagging, for the specific reason of the control of patents, etc., by entrenched interests” (Mills 1963, 54\6). Consequently, a problem also relates to the power of power elites that can control the very process of acceleration itself. The acceleration of culture is controlled by social organization and institutions. Such a problem exists in the acceleration of military technology wrought in a crucible of the military-industrial-complex. Or conversely, that the vested interests of power elites in the petroleum industry can also hold back the acceleration of the invention and innovation of solar technology. However, to have a framework as a locus of reference, and as a start, what then is Ogburn’s explicit conception and theory of cultural lag?

While Veblen never used the term, the phenomenon of cultural lag was implied in his writings: “a study of the basic dichotomy- ceremonialism and technology-of Veblen’s analyses reveals the important contribution which Veblen made to the theory of cultural lag” (Glade 1952, 432). However, “while the idea of cultural lag was implied by others, the explicit formulation of the concept and development of the theory awaited Ogburn” (Brinkman and Brinkman 1997, 610; 2005, 230).

Ogburn claimed that cultural lag does not pertain simply to conception alone, but relates to theory as well. “I think it better to say that since it is a concept of a relationship, it is a theory. It is therefore more than merely a new term in the language” (Duncan 1964, 89). In 1922 the concept and theory of cultural lag was specifically addressed in Ogburn’s book on social change. A reason for turning to Ogburn is that clarity of expression was not a Veblenian virtue. In fact, Veblen’s writing style at times makes for difficult reading. According to Gruchy, this is in part, because Veblen “never felt the need to move from the realm of specialized research to that of general or synthetical analysis” (Gruchy [1947] 1967, 613). While some would argue that Veblen’s writings “do not lack unity, unity is never displayed within the limits of one treatise” which leads to difficulty in understanding his theories by reading only one of his works (126). “Veblen thus failed to write at a level that was intelligible to the common man and never presented the bulk of his ideas in a single treatise, which in Gruchy’s view explains the limited scope of his influence” (Tilman 1992, 157). Veblen “could have done much to provide a firm inductive foundation for many of his broad generalizations. But he makes no use of the devices of statistical analysis” (Gruchy [1947] 1967, 127).

Veblen also failed to carry through from theory to policy. “When it comes to concrete suggestions for collective action Veblen has nothing or, at the most, little to say” (Gruchy [1947] 1967, 115). He “was not himself especially interested in problems of economic policy” (124). All this is not to belittle Veblen who had an important influence in both sociology and economics. In fact, Ogburn was “accused of taking the cultural-lag theory from Thorstein Veblen,” which he denied, “because I had never read him on this point” (Duncan 1964, 87; Brinkman 1981, 238, 258; Bush 1987, 1113). Ogburn admitted that he had read Marx on this subject and that this was “a base from which the theory of cultural lag was developed, but certainly neither the materialistic interpretation of history nor economic determinism is the same as cultural lag” (Duncan 1964, 87).

The above criticisms of Veblen are mentioned because it was in these very areas where Ogburn was strong. Ogburn was very interested in social policy and headed up the President’s Research Committee on Social Trends, appointed by President Herbert Hoover in 1929. “For Ogburn the important thing was not the conceptual scheme, but the discoveries to which its application might lead” (Duncan 1964, xv). Ogburn felt the need to prove his theory of cultural lag, and he used his statistical background to that end. “Thus, for proof, a theory evolved into a hypothesis. But the war came along, and it was only after the war that I took up the verification of this hypothesis by considering the adjustment of law to industrial accidents” (89).

With respect to clarity, Ogburn’s writing is clear and intelligible; “it is as clear a formulation of the problem or question of social change and cultural lag as can be found anywhere in the literature on the subject” (Glade 1952, 432). Also, “his writing is clearer than any secondary exposition could make it” (Duncan 1964, xv). Ogburn was “a scholar who could best present the case of the social scientist to the world of nonscientists” (Jaffe 1959, 319-320). Unlike Veblen, the basis for most of Ogburn’s studies, and there were many, may be found in a single treatise – Social Change: with Respect to Cultural and Original Nature ([1922] 1966).

Finally, Ogburn’s influence has been far-reaching. Cultural lag has appeared in almost all sociological textbooks, and has won widespread use, even appearing in dictionaries and encyclopedias, “written with initial lower-case letters and without Ogburn’s name attached” (Duncan 1964, xv). On a conciliatory note, both Veblen and Ogburn concentrated on the dynamics of culture evolution. Ogburn centered attention on social evolution in the context of culture evolution. “Social evolution becomes then cultural evolution” ([1922] 1966, 377). Veblen’s framework was directed toward economic evolution, but was also interrelated to the dynamics of culture evolution. Both emphasized the influence of technology. Ogburn was concerned about the influence of technology on society, as in “How Technology Causes Social Change” (Alien et al. 1957, Ch. 2). Veblen was more concerned with the conflict between technology and the business or pecuniary institutions he addressed in The Theory of Business Enterprise as well as in his other contributions to the literature. Also Veblen did not assume that technology had a completely free reign: “Veblen’s use of ‘lag, leak, and friction’ is a structural analysis of industry versus business enterprise. He focused on where ‘the lag” seemed to pinch; he attempted to show how the trained incapacity of legitimate businessmen acting within entrepreneurial canons would result in a commercial sabotage of production and efficiency in order to augment profits within a system of price and ownership” (Mills 1963, 546). According to Ogburn, then, a basic statement of cultural lag is:

that the various parts of modern culture are not changing at the same rate, some parts are changing much more rapidly than others; and that since there is a correlation and interdependence of parts, a rapid change in one part of our culture requires readjustment through other changes in the various correlated parts of culture . . . The extent of this lag will vary according to the nature of the cultural material, but may exist for a considerable number of years, during which time there may be said to be a maladjustment.2

Ogburn divided culture into material and nonmaterial parts. His aim was to emphasize the material part of culture that he felt was not particularly emphasized in Edward Tylor’s earlier definition as “‘that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society'” (Ogburn (1922] 1966, 4). Nonmaterial culture was broken down into adaptive and non-adaptive parts. An example of this would be the family which is a part of nonmaterial culture. When the factory system provided work away from home, the family had to adapt and adjust to these changed material conditions. At the same time, some of its functions remained constant, and were non- adaptive, as for example to procreate. Culture evolves and accumulates due to “four factors, invention, discovery, diffusion, and adjustment” (377).

There are many reasons to explain why nonmaterial culture tends to lag behind material culture. There are those who cling to the old forms (cultural inertia) for various reasons: settled social habits promoting institutional inertia in the form of vested interests, conformity due to fear of ostracism, and the power of tradition and elites, among many others. Consequently, aspects of nonmaterial culture may present obstacles to change and lag behind the characteristic acceleration of material culture. As a result, there is a period of maladjustment leading to social problems. But Ogburn was adamant that the sequence need not always entail a lag of nonmaterial culture behind that of material culture. On this score, there are four conceivable types of cultural lags interrelating the material with the nonmaterial (Brinkman and Brinkman 1997, 613; 2005, 231). “Indeed, it is conceivable that a change may first occur in nonmaterial culture and later the material culture be adjusted to such a change” (Ogburn [1922] 1966, 268-269). The independent variable “may be technological, economic, ideological, or anything else” (Duncan 1964, 91). The emphasis in most of Ogburn’s studies, however, was on the material culture as prime mover, especially during the modern period.

“What Is” the Veblenian Tradition?

If cultural lag is in the tradition of Veblenian economics, what then constitutes the “what is” of Veblenian economics? This is not an easy task and constitutes a problem that confronts neoclassical, Keynesian and Marxian economists. There have been many attempts by Veblenian economists to deal with this ongoing problem of paradigmatic clarification.3 And further, while many economists make contributions that are considered to be in the Veblenian tradition, they do not always consider themselves to be Veblenian economists, per se (Gruchy 1974, 207). “Not all of these specialists would use the label ‘institutionalist’ to describe their work, nor do they necessarily have an appreciation for the legacy of early institutionalists . . . ,” a clarification of “The Institutionalist Tradition” is addressed by Dell Champlin and Janet Knoedler (2004, 2, 4; B\rinkman 2005). The work of the soolled “new” (neoclassical) institutional economists complicates the issue further by obfuscating the meaning of institutional economics. This leaves traditional institutional economists with the opprobrium of “old” institutional economics. To resolve this conceptual and taxonomic conundrum, that has blurred the meaning of institutional economists, Champlin and Knoedler use institutionalists and institutionalist economics as an alternative.

While this may solve the problem, to some extent, why not call a spade a spade, and simply call traditional institutionalist economics what it really is Veblenian economics. Perhaps it is time to alter Walton Hamilton’s original designation of Veblenian economics as “institutionalism” (Breit and Culbertson 1976, 5; Hodgson 2004, 6, 255-6). This gives deserving recognition to Veblen as “a founder of modern evolutionary economics,” in that “Veblen’s writings constitute the first case of an evolutionary economics along Darwinian lines” (Hodgson 1998b, 183, 170; Hodgson 1998a, xvi, 426). This acknowledgment would place the school of Veblenian economics on par with the other major schools of thought delineated by their founding fathers and known as Keynesian and Marxian economics, and why not?

Given this nomenclaturial or taxonomic switch does not resolve the problem – what then is the “what is” of Veblenian economics? Gruchy offered a definition of institutional economics as “social provisioning” and in the frame of an “ongoing cultural process” (Gruchy 1987, 21-37). Perhaps a brief definition along similar lines might be that the Veblenian framework, in the context of socio- cultural provisioning, serves to analyze and instrumentally evaluate the processes of culture evolution with a reform orientation directed toward social justice in promoting a continuity of an ongoing process of human evolution – the economic life process.4 But this definition is far too brief to provide an understanding as to what constitutes Veblenian economics. The next step toward an increased complexity of conception might be to look at Veblenian economics as a structure, a framework standing on a foundation of three legs: (1) evolution; (2) culture; and, (3) value theory.5

At the outset, this appears to offer the three legs as separate entities; this is legitimate in that some institutional economists might focus on evolution, culture or value theory in isolation. In reality, however, the three legs are obviously interconnected and interrelated – but how? This question moves us from the simple to the more complex in terms of how then to integrate the three legs serving as a foundation for Veblenian economics? What follows constitutes an attempt to delineate some of the salient features of Veblenian economics in terms of its holistic and interdisciplinary nature.6 This will be followed by the Veblenian dichotomy and a further clarification of the conflation of the Veblenian tradition to the concept and theory of cultural lag.

In the first place, what is it that substantively evolves in the context of the economic process? Culture as “that complex whole” is comprised of both the material (buildings, bridges and boats) as well as the nonmaterial (government, corporations, and unions). Together, this gestalt in the overall framework of culture, as an amalgam of the material and the nonmaterial, constitutes the substantive grist for the mill of economic analysis. Veblenian economists “maintain that culture and economy are inseparable – culture is the economy” (Champlin and Knoedler 2004, 4). Culture, however, does not stand still but historically has evolved over time. The process of evolution requires a dynamic in the form of a sequential process of structural transformation7 Veblen frequently alluded to “a cumulative or unfolding sequence . . . a notion of a sequence or complex of change” (Veblen 1961, 70, 32, 77). Such a sequential paradigm, that sociologists address as one of “logistic surges,” presupposes a methodology that embraces the stages of economic evolution.

It appears that Veblen provided a theory for both general and specific cultural evolution (Sahlins and Service 1960, 12-44). General evolution relates to a sequential process of structural transformation. In biological terms general evolution relates to the sequential process of structural transformation in the movement from that of unicellular life, to fish, amphibians, reptiles, and on to mammals. By comparison, specific evolution relates to transformation within a structure such as that of fish. In cultural terms, general evolution relates to structural evolution in transportation, from that of the horse and buggy, on to railroads, to propeller driven aircraft and on to jets and rockets. By comparison, specific evolution relates to transformation within a structure such as that of propeller-driven aircraft in transportation, or capitalism in terms of culture writ large.

In cultural terms, Veblen dealt with both processes. On the one hand, Veblen’s theory comprised the process of general evolution and related to all stages of cultural evolution. “These two divergent ranges of inquiry are to be found together in all phases of human culture. What distinguishes the present phase is that the discrepancy between the two is now wider than ever before” (Veblen 1961, 18). Veblen’s theory related to canoe building, symbolic of primitive cultures, as well as to the construction of the empire state building as a concomitant to modern economic growth.8 But Veblen’s main attention, obviously, was directed toward the processes of specific evolution embedded in the specific overall structure of capitalism. Veblen’s basic dichotomy, juxtaposing the industrial versus the pecuniary, concerned an analysis of late nineteenth-century, robber-baron capitalism. Certainly, Veblen’s theory of economic evolution would not amount to much if it only pertained to nineteenth and early twentieth century America, any more than would Darwin’s theory be a theory of biological evolution if it only related to mammals or Homo sapiens.

Certain points concerning a stage methodology and the role of technology are in need of clarification. One concerns the so-called unilinear or orthogenetic problem. In addressing the stage’s problem there is a need to apply the distinction between general and specific evolution as noted above. The earth as a whole, from the past to the present, has experienced a linear process of general culture evolution. Problems exist in attempts to formulate a precise definition and description of each stage and its given characteristics.9 But it is evident that humankind’s culture has evolved from a very primitive stage to that of an Agrarian Revolution, on to what might be called a Commercial Revolution, and from this stage on to that of an Industrial Revolution and the epoch of Kuznets’s science-fed modern economic growth.

The epicenter of global evolution has shifted and been diffused from one culture to another as a process of general culture evolution for the earth as a whole. That is not to assume that a given culture, such as that of Egypt or Somalia, will necessarily or inevitably evolve into modern economic growth any more than the nautilus will evolve into Homo sapiens. But rather that for the earth as a whole, general evolution has, indeed, taken place in the form of stages and can be depicted as a linear process. That is not to assume that every culture is driven by some inexorable, teleological imperative. Not all cultures will necessarily be able to break out of the bonds of the processes of specific evolution and engage the dynamics of general evolution. Though we know where humanity has been in terms of the path of the general evolution of culture, given the teleological fallacy, this does not enable us to predict where the drift of culture evolution will inevitably lead us in the future. Concerning the future, humankind must transform that enigmatic drift into a design of culture to serve in the promotion of ongoing human needs inherent in a continuity of human evolution.

Interrelating a stage analysis to technology, the technological process accounts for the transformation of one stage of culture to the next. Arguing that technology serves as the factor of causality lends itself to the charge of technological determinism or reductionism. The answer to such a charge depends on the meaning and conception of the technology used in analysis: “Technology-the development and application of scientific or systematic knowledge to practical tasks” (Galbraith 1973, 39). So conceptualized, technology consequently constitutes a process not a thing.10

The technological process, however, does not really cause culture to change and be transformed, but rather that the changes brought about via the technological process, ipso facto, constitute a change and transformation of culture. Culture is made up of the material and social technics emanating from the technological process. “However, no one supposes that the technological process is the whole of culture” (Ayres 1978, 121), but rather that the technological process constitutes the “core of culture” (Veblen 1961, 2, 29; Brinkman 1997, 1033, 1036). Therefore, by inventing and innovating the steam engine, humankind also changed and transformed material culture in the process. Similarly, with the introduction of the factory system as a concomitant social technic to that of the steam engine, nonmaterial culture was also transformed in the process. Such material and nonmaterial technics, as residuals and manifestations of the technological process, constitute a culture- conception of technology (Brinkman 1997).

Consequently, the technological process does not cause culture to change. But rather, that a transformation of the technics of technology, itself, constitutes a transformation of culture. This Janus-faced nature of knowledge, as \a coin of useful knowledge, is depicted in Figure 1, “The Dichotomy of Useful Knowledge.” On one side, technology functions as applied knowledge and on the other, knowledge is stored in culture. Both technology and culture are manifestations of the protean concept of knowledge that appears in many forms. To change one (technology) is to change the other (culture) in that both technology and culture appear as opposite sides of the coin of knowledge. Consequently, this explains culture evolution in terms of its very own substance (knowledge), for to change the dough (technology) is to change the bread (culture).

The processes of invention, discovery and culture diffusion offer new technics, which must be permeable to a given culture to be innovated. Innovation leads to expansion of the technological base, as an overall gestalt of technology, and from this expansion more knowledge begets more knowledge. This expanded base in turn serves to nurture an increased capacity for more inventions. But given such a “Wheel of Economic Development,” as a manifestation of Gunnar Myrdal’s circular and cumulative causation, wherein does one ascertain the locus of the evolutionary impulse?” In such a circle of the technological process, of so many concomitant parts, wherein does one identify a single factor of causality? Further, given the role of humankind as the basic agent advancing the technological process, the conclusion drawn from this discussion is that the technology process, as such, does not serve as the single causal factor of culture evolution. The process of technology constitutes a process of great complexity comprised of many interrelated parts combining humankind’s interaction with culture and the physical world. Technology is not simply relegated to the material – deus ex machina.

The “principle of similitude” states that for growth to experience an ongoing continuum of increased scale and size, there is also a need for an ongoing concomitant process of structural transformation.12 This is another way of stating that evolution and cultural accumulation relate to an ongoing process of structural transformation-that is the process of evolution. The process of economic growth relates to a process of specific evolution and entails growth within a structure. The growth process entails reproduction and replication, as more and more of the same, as in rabbits or more and more automobiles. This appears as a logistic or Gompertz growth curve. Such a sigmoid or “S”growth curve, ultimately, is contained in an asymptotic ceiling. By comparison, economic development, as a sequential process of general evolution, relates to a process of transforming one structure to the next (Brinkman 1995). Consequently, “[a]ny evolutionary science … is a theory of a process, of an unfolding sequence” (Veblen 1961, 58, 77). As such, economic development, as an ongoing exponential process of culture accumulation, and with acceleration, is predicated on what Hornell Hart referred to as an unfolding series of “logistic surges.””Throughout the entire sweep of history and prehistory, the power of human beings to achieve their basic purposes has been increasing at accelerating speed … This long- run acceleration has taken place through a series of logistic and Gompertz surges” (Hart 1946, 281, 290-91). Whereas Ogburn gave us a theory of the exponential advance of culture, Hart noted that the exponential was predicated on an underlying process of structural transformation manifest in “logistic surges.”

Consequently, the ongoing evolution of culture enables humankind to take bigger and bigger bites of the infinity of knowledge. A knowledge that is stored in culture and, in the process of ongoing cultural evolution, can potentially enable humanity to become more human. While technology, as a process, can potentially promote an instrumental function as a necessary condition in the ongoing advance of the human life process, technology need not always serve an instrumental function. The accumulation and store of useful, instrumental knowledge is necessary for ongoing human evolution as a process that is no longer simply biological but is now primarily cultural. “Since change cannot be explained by a constant” (Ogburn [1922] 1966, 377). The process of biological evolution and genetic transformation is gradual and long-term in nature and has changed relatively little for Homo sapiens in the past 25,000 years (132-4, 392, 377). While not discounting the relevancy of the genetic and the biological, ongoing human evolution is now primarily relegated to the dynamics of culture evolution (Ogburn [1922] 1966, 132-33).

Therefore, the exponential acceleration of culture, manifest in a “toolcombination principle,” is viewed by Ayres as a “law of progress” (Ayres 1978, 118-19; Hodgson 2004, 357-8). This position requires a clarification. Using “tools” as the basis for combination infers a focus on material culture arid material technology, granting that Ayres apparently did not conceptualize technology in terms of the material alone but interrelated tools with skills (Ayres 1978, xv). Nonetheless, it is better perhaps to use a “knowledge combination principle,” Invention constitutes a kaleidoscopic process of shaking and combining the existing bits of knowledge into new structures, both material and nonmaterial (social) viewed as new inventions. As a result, more knowledge begets more knowledge and the accumulation is exponential.

A Conflation of Culture Lag Theory to Veblenian Economics

Now to the connection of cultural lag to the overall Veblenian framework and theory embedded in the Veblenian dichotomy. “The ideas of cultural theory as developed by Ogburn and others in sociology later became conflated with Veblen’s cumulative causation and cultural sequence” (Dugger and Sherman 1997, 1007; Hodgson 2004, 372, 192). The advancing exponential juggernaut of general culture evolution has not been a smooth one, but rather has been marked by many periods of maladjustments. These periods have been related to both the long-run as well as the short-run. Ogburn also sought reform, via institutional adjustments, but his focus was directed more to the short-run. To Ogburn, cultural lags tend to disappear in the long run, and therefore are not visible because they “have been caught up” (Duncan 1964, 95; Ogburn [1922] 1966, 388-90). Such a short-term focus precludes an analysis and critique of the overall system of capitalism dating back to the Industrial Revolution, but cultural lags appear in both the long-run, and still many of which have as yet to be resolved, as well as in the short-run.

The dynamic capacity of modern technology is currently controlled by a neoliberal ideology, as a form of institutional sclerosis and cultural lag that assumes an alleged self-regulating, free-market process. This constitutes a powerful resistance to changes not amenable to neoliberal ends in the making of money and -the maximization of profits. Veblen’s theory and critique of capitalism resided in the basic dichotomy that juxtaposed the acceleration of industrial technology to that of the lagging pecuniary or business institutions. The Veblenian dichotomy consequently constitutes a theory of cultural lag, and, perhaps, even more so under the influence of Ayres. “Though he drew on Veblen’s work, Ayres’s thought was closer to some of the cultural lag theories then current in the social sciences” (Dugger and Sherman 2000, 175; 1997, 993;’Hodgson 2004, 366-72). Veblen’s cultural lag was used to critique capitalism and was related to the long-run problems of maladjustment inherent in the system. This long-term lag has yet to achieve ameliorative, instrumental institutional adjustment.

The institutional structure of American capitalism grants elites and the owners of capital control over surplus production in its use and distribution. But further and even of greater concern, over time the elites gained control of what we have designated as the “core of culture”; the cultural capital; the store of society’s technological wealth; and or, the industrial arts; to be used as a usufruct to, in turn, control and direct the path of the process of economic production and evolution. This process reinforces the power and wealth of vested interests. The modus operandi directing that path was, and still is, to accumulate money in the maximization of profits rather than to have production and the overall economic process directed toward the servicing of human needs (Veblen 1996, 51). This tenet constitutes the basic conflation between cultural lag theory and Veblenian economics.

As noted previously, while Veblen implied a concept and theory of the cultural-lag phenomenon, Ogburn later explicitly gave it the title of cultural lag. By comparison and as a distinguishing feature, Veblen’s concept of that phenomenon, in its long-run manifestations, was used to critique the system of capitalism. Ogburn used cultural lag, not pointedly as a critique of the overall system of capitalism, per se, but more so as an analytical framework of its disparate parts-such as workmen’s compensation. If one searches the writings of Veblen, his implicit recognition and theory of the phenomenon becomes evident as a theory of cultural lag: “Institutions are products of the past process, are adapted to past circumstances, and are therefore never in full accord with the requirements of the present. In the nature of the case this process of selective adaptation can never catch up with the progressively changing situation …” (Veblen 1970, 140).

This clearly suggests a process of imperfect institutional adjustment and cultural lag, in which institutions forever adjust towards ‘the progressively changing situation'” (Hodgson 2004, 192; 1998b, 189). The cultural lag phenomenon so delineated is also interrelated to Veblen’s dichotomy. The principles (habits of thought) which govern knowledgeand belief, law and morals, have accordingly lagged behind, as contrasted with the forward drive in industry and in the resulting workday conditions of living” (Veblen 1997, 206, italics added).

Culture as Humankind’s Social DNA

“No charge is leveled more consistently at institutionalism . . . than that it has nothing positive to offer – it is mere dissent” (Klein 1993, 13, 13-47; Klein 1994). The Veblenian tradition, however, goes Beyond Dissent and the critiques associated with cultural lags; it also deals with the positive processes of assent and amelioration. Figure 2, “Three Dichotomies Associated with Veblenian Economics,” is in need of explanation and clarification. Though both Ayres and Veblen dealt with cultural lag as dissent, the dichotomy put forth by Ayres does not represent a continuity of Veblen’s dichotomy. The assumption of such continuity would represent a “false conflation of Veblen and Ayres” (Hodgson 2004, 365, 355-378). Ayres maintained throughout his academic career, even extending to perhaps his last published work in 1973, that his dichotomy represented a continuity of Veblen’s: “Veblen made the dichotomy of technology and ceremonialism his master principle” (Tilman 1990, 976).

However, “(cjontrary to Ayres, Veblen never described the institutional process as ‘ceremonialism'” (Hodgson 2004, 366). To note that business institutions and the pecuniary functioned as the ceremonial, the Veblenian dichotomy does not infer that all institutions served ceremonial functions. Neither does Veblen assume a reductionist position inferring that technology is always positive (instrumental) as to function. By comparison, Ayres also sought to equate technology with instrumentalism, and therefore that technology was always positive as to function in the promotion of human progress. Dewey, “in extreme old age,” was evidently not so inclined: “I’ll stick henceforth to technological” (Ayres 1952, 26; Tilman 1990, 978; Brinkman 1997, 1029).

A search of the literature might reveal instances in which Ayres was unclear in equating all institutions with ceremonialism. However, it appears that the overriding position of Ayres equated all institutions with ceremonialism (Ayres 1952, 43). But, if this Ayresian view is correct, why then make institutional adjustments, if institutions only function as the ceremonial? (Atkinson and Reed 1990, 1096, 1098). This interpretation supported by a book, entitled Science and Ceremony and by many others who evidently endorsed the Ayresian dichotomy and concluded that “Veblen judged social institutions to be evil … all social institutions… are predatory . . . are wasteful.. .” (Breit and Culbertson 1976; Davis 1968, 304, italics added).

After all, one of the most dynamic agents ever originated by humankind, was of the nature of a social institution; we speak here of the institution better known as the institution of science. To disengage from the conundrum of dissent and the cultural lag problem (the dichotomies of Ayres and Veblen) Figure 2 presents a third dichotomy to engage the goal of assent: “The Veblen-Dewey-Kuznets Dichotomy.” This constitutes a paradigmatic shift from that of the empirical world, of the “what is” to that of the “what ought.” As stated earlier, the third leg representing the tradition of Veblenian economics relates to value theory. For while Veblen spoke of “idle curiosity,” his curiosity was obviously not always that idle. Veblen was a whistle blower and social reformer – to the core, “(t]he Veblenian dichotomy is the original and primary source of the neoinstitutionalists’ normative analysis; it undergirds their social value theory… an embryonic normative construct” (Tool 1998, 310- 311).

The Veblenian dichotomy can also be interpreted as a “Dichotomy of Useful Knowledge” (Figure 1). “Under such a bifurcate scheme of culture with its concomitant two-cleft systemization of knowledge . . . these two divergent ranges of inquiry are to be found together in all phases of human culture” (Veblen 1961, 45-46, 18, 39-38). In this context the contribution of Kuznets, to the Veblen-Dewey- Kuznets dichotomy, resides in his concept of a scientific epoch in explaining the dynamics of modern economic growth as The Place of Science in Modern Civilization (Kuznets 1966). And further, that a theory of economic growth will be founded in a “theory of the production and accumulation of empirical knowledge” (Kuznets 1968, 62-84). In addition, in his concept of modern economic growth, Kuznets states that science has come to be applied to economic production and social organization (1966, 487). This then assumes that social structures, not only the material, can be advanced via the application of systematic and scientific knowledge as social inventions.

Both Mitchell and Kuznets are positiviste and provided for the advancement of culture to be led by a ship of science without an ethical rudder. To overcome this normative deficiency, Dewey’s contribution to the Veblen-Dewey-Kuznets dichotomy is manifest in offering both a theory of knowledge as well as a theory of value. Consequently, social institutions and organizations are now assumed to be permeable to instrumental knowledge. It is relevant in this context, that “Dewey did not state that all institutions constrain scientific and or technological advance” (Hodgson 2004, 371-2).

Given the Dewey addendum, we now have in place as depicted in Figure 1, a potential unity of knowledge to embrace a synthesis of knowledge of the hard physical sciences, the soft social sciences, and also to include ethics and philosophy. In drawing attention to Dewey, Gruchy stated: “Institutionalists are pragmatists who believe that where cultural or economic evolution goes depends very largely on the exercise of organized intelligence.”13 Such a synthesis, as “organized intelligence,” embedded in the Veblen-Dewey-Kuznets dichotomy, can then be directed to offer a design of culture fed by the dynamics of instrumental knowledge. It is in this context that we speak in terms of culture as humankind’s social DNA. This constitutes an evolution of culture no longer controlled by a spontaneous drift, but rather by design via the application of instrumental knowledge in the ongoing evolution of culture fed by the dynamics of technological advance. At this juncture we introduce the concept of culture serving as humankind’s social DNA servicing the ongoing advance of human evolution and progress.

Such a social DNA might then serve to synchronize the various disparate parts of culture that move at a variety of rates of acceleration. The function of synchronization of the various parts, in the growth and development of biological organisms, is achieved via biological DNA that serves as a code of life, a blueprint for synchronization. By comparison, potentially, it is culture that can serve as humankind’s social DNA and in the process synchronizes the disparate parts of culture.

[CJulture functions as a storage bank of man’s accumulated knowledge and provides the mechanism or vehicle for passing this knowledge on from generation to generation. Culture provides a blueprint or code for human behavior and in this regard serves as man’s social DNA. (Brinkman 1981, 107, 2, 3, 167, 372-4, and 42527, #74; Brinkman and Brinkman 1997, 621; Dugger and Sherman 2000, 54)

While the current structure of culture provides for a social code of human behavior, it is not always instrumental in content. Culture does not yet function to synchronize the dynamics of its disparate parts. Hazel Henderson has also viewed culture as a code of life and as a blueprint in serving humankind’s potential social DNA. “The real resources at hand for our survival require mining our storehouses of cultural DNA codes . . . CULTURAL DNA AND BIODIVERSITY: CODES THE REAL WEALTH OF NATIONS” (Henderson 1996, 168- 93, 23, 71, 111, 205, 313).

Cultural lags not only exist in culture writ large, but also plague the evolution of science itself, especially in the “Queen” of the social sciences better known as economics. The myth that “one size fits all,” and that a self-regulating, freemarket process actually exists, is still maintained by neoliberal economists. This cultural lag, inherent in mainstream neoliberal policy advocacy, has predictably resulted in many problems indicative of maladjustment. Problems such as that of the nuclear neoplasm of proliferation, the current ecological disaster, the growing inequities of current income and wealth distribution, the current wage stagnation, the destruction of pensions, maladjustments in health care and human rights, and so on, are currently not addressed in the neoclassical framework (neoliberalism). The neoclassical paradigm guiding current megacorporate globalization appears to be irrelevant to the current malaise facing the global and interrelated national economies.

But what is in store for the hope of a future vindicating Dewey’s optimism and “organized intelligence” to guide and design our social DNA, versus Veblen’s cynicism and pessimism? Maybe Veblen’s pessimism was nurtured in his downtrodden situation especially in comparison to Dewey’s status and academic ranking.14 In any event, in what was apparently Veblen’s last article, “Economics in the Calculable Future” published in the American Economic Review (1925) Veblen’s established clairvoyance apparently holds true. “Veblen indicated his belief that economists in the foreseeable future would continue to be apologists for the price system with all that implies in the Veblen lexicon of satire” (Tilman 1990, 969). What Wesley C. Mitchell aptly wrote rings true: “That economists still cling to their traditional analysis is to Veblen merely the latest illustration of the cultural lag theory – a lag readily accounted for by the institutional approach” (Mitchell 1964, xlviii; Kuznets 1968, 80-81).


1. In a more recent publication, Tilman noted that “Dewey,like Veblen and Mills, subscribed to a similar view of cultural lag and social inertia” (2004, 265), and “Dewey’s social theory . . . was rooted in cultural lag” (196), and “Dewey as a social theorist, often relied on both the theory and phenomenon of cultural lag” (199). In many other instances, Tilman’s 2004 publication draws attention to cultural lag, in relation to Veblenian economics (see for example, 261-63).

2. Ogburn 11922) 1966, 200, a simple diagram is helpful in understanding Ogburn’s cultural lag analysis. For further explanation note: Ogburn 11922] 1966, 206; Brinkman and Brinkman 1997, 615; 2005, 231; and Glade 1952, 428.

3. For a brief compilation of some of this open-ended literature note: Brinkman 2004, 812-13; and 2005.

4. Gruchy’s definition: “A short definition of economics from the institutionalist point of view is that it is the science of social provisioning . . . best viewed as a science of social provisioning” (1987, 22-37), and “[i)t can be said that in their definitions of economics, the institutionalises seek to culturalize the science of economics.” (1987, 37).

5. Harry Trebing in assessing Gruchy’s contribution, offered three basic tenets of Veblenian economics: (1) economics as a cultural science; (2) to include an evolutionary and holistic context; and (3) the social goal of economic planning. Our third leg substitutes the overall rubric of value theory for economic planning, in that instrumental value theory serves to originate specific economic policies, such as that conceivably are contained in the domain of economic planning (Trebing 1991, 409).

6. While noted by many Veblenian economists, the holistic approach was given more pointed attention by Gruchy (1947; 1972; 1987); and Adams (1980).

7. “Structural change was central to our definition of the evolutionary process” (Dugger and Sherman 2000,121,7).

8. On the canoe building (Ayres 1978, 108-9), and on Malinowski, cf., Hamilton 1986, 528.

9. Bert Hoselitz (ed.) drew attention to three problems: (1) the need to delineate the stages of a given economy; (2) description, taxonomy and ideal types; and, (3) the identification of the factors that make for change (1960, 194).

10. “Energy is the capacity to do work” (Marion 1974). “The fact that energy is not a thing in the normal sense of the word does not mean that it does not exist” (Theobald 1966, 177; Brinkman 1981, 12654), neither is the process of economic development a thing, nor is culture as “that complex whole” a thing subject to direct measure as a store of knowledge.

11. For more details related to the “Wheel of Economic Development,” which incorporates MyrdaPs circular and cumulative causation, cf., Brinkman 1981, 198-236.

12. The origins of this principle go back to Galileo, and appear more recently in the contributions of D’Arcy Thompson (1961). The basic literature including the contributions of Talcott Parsons and the process of “structural differentiation” is covered by Daniel Bell (1973, 171-74).

13. (Gruchy 1987, 8, italics added). Gruchy also noted the connection of “organized intelligence” to Dewey (11) and the theory of knowledge vis–vis the future path and dynamics of culture evolution. This is similar to John Kenneth Galbraith’s “collective intelligence” that is applied to the micro-level embodied in the corporate technostructure (1973, 81-91).

14. “Veblen’s last years were spent in modest material circumstances and scholarly neglect, while Dewey lived comfortably and enjoyed every honor that could be bestowed on America’s most influential philosopher” (Tilman 1990, 969); by comparison to Veblen who “lived with his stepdaughter until his death in 1929 amidst furniture that he made with his own hands, wearing rough clothes purchased through mail order houses . . . watching the movements of events with a dull ache of bitterness and resignation” as stated by Max Lerner in Horowitz (2002, 71).


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Richard Brinkman is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Economics, and lune Brinlcman is retired Adjunct Faculty at Portland State University. This paper was presented at the AFiT Conference, April 13-16, 2005, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We thank the anonymous referees for their erudite and helpful suggestions.

Copyright Association for Evolutionary Economics Dec 2006

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