Abstract: Unshackled: Decision, Creativity, and History

Andrew Popp


How do business people take decisions? What kind of knowledge and information do they require? How do processes of decision making relate to time and, ultimately, to the making of history? Business historians concerned with the evolution of firms and strategies must concern themselves with such questions. In seeking a framework that will help them to theorize these issues, business historians have turned to economists for help, particularly information cost economics. This conceptual paper will argue that this turn ties us to unrealistic models of economic action and decision making that hamper our ability to do good history. Instead, we might profitably look to the work of heterodox economist G. L. S. Shackle. The paper will examine Shackle's demonstration of the meaningless of discussing agency and decision making under the assumptions dominant in mainstream economics, Shackle's conception of the relationship between decision making, knowledge, the nature and experience of time, his reflections on the roles of creativity and imagination in economic decision making, and his search for a non-determinative understanding of historicy. Primarily conceptual, the paper's purpose is to show how Shackle's work might be fruitfully read and applied by business historians in order to illuminate important debates and issues within our discipline.