Saturday, July 29, 2017


GARY SAUL MORSON  a professor of the arts and humanities at Northwestern University, is co-author of Cents and Sensibility: What Economics Can Learn from the Humanities and MORTIN SHAPIRO, a professor of economics and President of Northwestern University, is co-author of Cents and Sensibility: What Economics Can Learn from the Humanities. post (28 July) on PROJECT-SYNDICATE HERE
Economics With a Humanities Face
In a 2006 survey, American university professors were asked whether it was better to possess knowledge from numerous fields of study, or from just one. Among professors of psychology, 79% were enthusiastic about interdisciplinary learning, as were 73% of sociologists and 68% of historians. The least enthusiastic? Economists: only 42% surveyed said they agreed with the need to understand the world through a cross-disciplinary lens. As one observer put it bluntly: “Economists literally think they have nothing to learn from anyone else.”
In fact, economists would benefit greatly if they broadened their focus. Dealing as it does with human beings, economics has much to learn from the humanities. Not only could its models be more realistic and its predictions more accurate, but economic policies could be more effective and more just.
Whether one considers how to foster economic growth in diverse cultures, the moral questions raised when universities pursue self-interest at the expense of their students, or deeply personal issues concerning health care, marriage, and families, economic insights are necessary but insufficient. If those insights are all we consider, policies flounder and people suffer.
In their passion for mathematically-based explanations, economists have a hard time in at least three areas: accounting for culture, using narrative explanation, and addressing ethical issues that cannot be reduced to economic categories alone. …
… The point is not to abandon the great achievements of economics, but to create what we call a “humanomics,” which allows each discipline to keep its own distinctive qualities. Rather than fuse economics and the humanities, humanomics creates a dialogue between them.
Such a conversation would actually bring economics back to its illustrious roots in the thought of Adam Smith, who, in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, explicitly denied that human behavior could be adequately described in terms of people’s “rational choice” to maximize their individual utility. After all, people often behave foolishly. More important for Smith, their care for others is an “original passion” that is not reducible to selfish concerns.
Yes, more evidence that there is a slowly growing articulation of resistance to the modern dominance of economics by blind adherence to purely mathematical expositions of analysis that leaves out of consideration the plain facts that human activity is subject to many forces unnameable to mathematical rigidities.
Follow the link and consider its author's concerns. They may not quite get the full consequences of their criticisms, but they do point a way ahead.


Blogger Mike Doyle said...

the link is here:

10:54 am  
Blogger billoo said...

I think this is an interesting point but one that is unlikely to persuade current economists since utility is not a substantive concept. I think G. hodgson is right here: for modern economics the question of realism is not relevant since theory relies on axiomatic thinking ( it's not surprising Lucas could say economists model the actions of robots!).

Of course, the main point is correct. They/ we have a lot to learn but the question is, for me, why has the subject been so resistant to internal and external critiques ?( it's remarakable to think Sen's Rational a Fools is 40 years old and that the textbooks remain largely oblivious of his work).

On learning from the humanities I think R. Bronk's Romantic a Economist is very good.

7:47 pm  

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