Sunday, September 17, 2017

New Book Attempts To Bring Economics And Literature Together

Adam Smith did not believe people are merely economic maximizers. Instead, we balance self-interest with humane sympathy for others. Deirdre N. McCloskey reviews ‘Cents and Sensibility’ by Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro.

See Economics With a Human Face from The WSJ. Excerpts:
"economics—a hugely influential approach to studying human societies—isn’t worth all that much without first understanding what it means to be human.

Mr. Morson is a professor of Slavic literature at Northwestern University, and Mr. Schapiro teaches economics there"

"Economics, they argue, has been stripped down to a theory neglecting language and culture. At the same time, literary study has abandoned its responsibility to lead students to the best that has been thought and said. The humanities, Messrs. Morson and Schapiro contend, should acknowledge economics for worldly purposes. Yet for a truly human science the economists need literature, philosophy and history. Each discipline can supply what the other lacks."

"The real Smith observes that human beings summon qualities of sympathy balanced with their self-interest. People are not merely economic maximizers: They are ethical creatures from the get-go."

"Messrs. Morson and Schapiro advocate a fusion the economist Bart Wilson and the Nobelist Vernon Smith have recently dubbed “humanomics.” The humanities study categories, and the initial step of categorization is essential to any human inquiry."

"You can’t measure gross domestic product or unemployment without first saying what they are, qualitatively, as categories of interest to humans."

"There is no God-term telling us from the outside what categories humans care about. Economics, physics, biology, history—all need the first, humanistic, categorizing step."

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