Technology is the means to achieving the "cross-cultural end of the extension and improvement of the life process, and it does so through logic and reason. Business has as its end the accumulation and use of power, only allowing technology to advance when it appears that the existing power relationships and the ideologies underlying them will not be significantly affected" (Harvey, 1994, p. 75). Institutionalists hold that orthodox economists should not perpetuate the myth that capitalism itself is the source of social progress. Rather, technology is the source of social progress, but the benefits of technology can be and frequently are constrained by the ceremonial institutions within a society.
Genuine knowledge sets the outer limits of human potential. Ceremonial institutions, however, "encapsulate genuine knowledge, and thus the human potential, by confining the use of knowledge within the framework of the core values of the established power structure" (Junker, 1982b, p. 50). In most capitalist economies, the "real choices that our technological knowledge make possible (choices between different production and distribution systems, for example, centralized versus decentralized) have been circumscribed by, or encapsulated within, our capitalistic ideology and, in particular, by the values of self-interest, profit seeking, and laissez-faire" (Munkirs, 1985, p. 179).
The term social benefits may be used in two ways. First, social benefits may be considered to be all of the gains in welfare which are derived from a specific economic decision. Alternatively, social benefits may be viewed in a more narrow context as being only those benefits accruing to those in a society other than the decision-maker(s). In this alternative approach, social benefits are contrasted to private benefits. Social benefits, in this alternative context, are viewed as externalities, or spill-over effect.