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“Mom, I maximize your utility.”
December 2, 2012 5:41 AM   Subscribe

The Economics of Caring There's something deeply flawed about an economic system that measures utility but not the attachments we feel to another person, or to one's homeland.
posted by infini (26 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yes, I did read the article -- there is a good point the author makes about how current economic thinking would treat human emotion, but maybe the problem isn't that there's a flaw in the economic thinking -- maybe the problem is that economic thinking isn't supposed to be commenting on non-economic things anyway. I mean, we don't seek out the kinesthesiology of painting or try to apply the principles of architecture to animal behavior, do we?

I understand that human emotion can indeed prompt behavior that can impact economic response, but I don't expect economics to explain that behavior. It's just like, climate change can impact animal behavior, but we don't expect biologists or animal behaviorists to also be able to explain climate change as well. A biologists can tell you that "when the weather is warmer than usual, a polar bear does [foo] instead of [baz] - but if you want to know why the weather is warmer than usual, go ask a meteorologist."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:49 AM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Some thoughts:

*She beats the ever loving crap out of those strawmen. Economists say this, economists say that, did she ever ask an economist about any of this?

*All models have deficiencies, but that does not make them useless. We model things like utility, even though it is immeasurable, because it allows us to make predictions in the aggregate.

*For all of her complaints about economist modeling of "love", she never goes beyond "time to get serious, and get beyond Max U" to describe how she would describe it. What the fuck does that even mean?
posted by zabuni at 6:10 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


SMBC on the topic.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:11 AM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


but not the attachments we feel to another person, or to one's homeland.

"Sir, the populace does not love the government adequately."

"Then redouble the propaganda! The love of our country is paramount. Oh, and let's look into adjusting the definitions a little; clearly, since happiness is going down, there's something wrong, because everyone is happier than ever under our glorious leadership. The people coming up with these numbers may need re-education."
posted by Malor at 6:12 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]




EmpressCallipygos: I see your point in the sense that an economy is an organizational structure to help distribute goods and services, allocate resources, and stuff like that dealing with people's material needs. But economic activities interact with the rest of our human activities, and an economy - or, more specifically, economic decision-making - can be based on a variety of types of human interactions. I think that Graeber lays out a nice categorization of types of human interactions in his book "Debt": he posits three main types of interactions: (1) hierarchical, (2) exchange, and (3) communistic. He then (as an anthropologist) goes on to describe a bunch of different societies with economies operating largely on the basis of each category of interactions. Base your economic decision-making on hierarchical interactions, and you get something like feudalism. Base your economic decision-making on purely exchange interactions, and you get something like capitalism. Base your economic decision-making on purely communistic interactions, and you get something like communism. Base your economic decision-making on a mix, and you get different economic systems (hierarchical + exchange = mercantilism?; exchange + communistic = various non-communist socialisms?). In that sense, I can imagine an "economics" that kind of blends into other social science disciplines. (Graeber, in fact, argues that the folks originally behind the push for economics as it's own, separate area of study from the former field of "political economy" had some very political motivations for that. So I guess I'm saying that economics could (and in my opinion should) go back in the direction of political economy, which does take into consideration some non-specifically-material quality of life issues.)

zabuni: astronomers before Copernicus were able to predict astronomical events such as when to expect which starts and planets in which parts of the sky, eclipses, etc., with some reasonable accuracy despite having the Ptolemaic model with the Earth at the center of the solar system in their model, but the computations were insanely complicated. Copernicus' model with the sun at the center of the solar system actually didn't give huge jumps in accuracy of predictions (especially considering he originally posited circular rather than elliptical orbits, which were a later revision of the heliocentric model by Kepler), but gave those slightly better results with a significantly simpler model. Yes, both were merely mathematical models of the solar system, not reality itself, and thus left out some information, but it is perhaps reasonable to judge one as a better model than the other. I think that the argument in the fpp is similar: yes, you can fold non-material concerns such as love and caring into the utility model, but it gets complicated and unwieldy, and it seems like a model which actually allows for real altruism could be both simpler and more accurate (in it's ability to both explain and predict actual human behavior).
posted by eviemath at 6:33 AM on December 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Economists think this is a complete description of your mother’s love. A greeting card company could make a card for the economist to send to his mother: “Mom, I maximize your utility.”

I like making fun of academic economics as much as the next person, and I've even FPPed McCloskey's articles before, but I think this just isn't fair. Economists don't think that human behavior is actually described by utility maximization, they just think it's a rough and ready model that captures some features of human behavior in the aggregate. Which it is!
posted by escabeche at 6:38 AM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have a weird creeped out sensation on realizing that your heart being broken by an economist is meaninglessly empty. It cancels itself out.
posted by infini at 6:42 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ye-es... except with economics, somehow it ends up not being just a descriptive or predictive model, but something prescriptive about how we *should* be. This might not be how economists themselves see the world, but it seems to be that it is how economics is portrayed to lots of people, some with political power for example, who then make policy decisions based on a moral or ethical judgement that is based on this model that may have started out as purely a functional, mathematical device. Insert something here about pop science studies that indicate or claim that economics majors (i.e. people with some exposure to these types of models, from actual economists no less, but perhaps not people who have gone on to more serious study and become actual economists themselves) become greedier and less caring and empathetic after a course of bachelor's-level economic studies.

In other words, it's possible that McCloskey is misidentifying the problem, and that the problem is economics education and/or the application of economics for political purposes rather than the economics models themselves, but I do think there is something to her point.
posted by eviemath at 6:50 AM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


*She beats the ever loving crap out of those strawmen. Economists say this, economists say that, did she ever ask an economist about any of this?

McCloskey is an economist. Not sure if you knew that or not.

But yes, she does like her straw men. The U Max stuff seems kind of antiquated to me. Chapters 1-2 of Eugene Silberburg's textbook on mathematical economics explains pretty clearly that all of our models are just that -- models. I don't know about other economists, but I don't believe people really have utility functions. I'm not sure firms maximize profits either. But I think that the assumptions aren't so grotesque that I can't make them and then work out the implications.

Plus, as I like to point out to people, utility maximization gives very unusual falsifiable predictions, such as the Giffen good. See this 2008 American Economic Review by Robert Jensen and Nolan Miller finding it using a randomized controlled field experiment in rural China. The Giffen good is an upward sloping demand curve.

In my mind, if the scientific theory makes a fairly controversial prediction that can be tested, and conclusive experimental evidence for it is found, then I think it's probably time to drop the straw men. The pot shots at Becker in the article are a little silly imo.
posted by scunning at 7:05 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


While it would be silly to call economics a hard science, we have to admit that it is at least a goal-oriented discipline, and as such we need mathematics to calculate how to achieve those goals. I'm certainly willing to believe that the current predictive models are inaccurate, but McCloskey doesn't offer any alternative model, so it seems like her article is incomplete. Does she possibly say more about a proposed alternative in any of her other publications?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:33 AM on December 2, 2012


chavenet: "Deidre McCloskey is a fascinating person.

McCloskey has not always been a liberal. When she was 14, she was an anarcho-communist; at age 19, a Keynesian. When she was 30, she breathed in free-market theories from Milton Friedman and the Chicago School; at age 48, she got closer to the Austrian liberal school and Friedrich Hayek. Finally, at age 68, she coined the term "humanomics," the economy of the human.
"
-----------
I liked her better at 14.

"Love of homeland" sounds a bit too fascistic-y for me, thanks.
posted by symbioid at 8:14 AM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I see your point in the sense that an economy is an organizational structure to help distribute goods and services, allocate resources, and stuff like that dealing with people's material needs. But economic activities interact with the rest of our human activities, and an economy - or, more specifically, economic decision-making - can be based on a variety of types of human interactions.

Well, yes - but I don't see that this was an example of economic-decision making based on human interaction. It looks like she's saying economics is going a step further and trying to EXPLAIN human interaction.

In grand sweeping broad strokes, it looked like the thrust of her argument is: "economics is trying to explain human interaction, but the explanation it's been coming up with has flaws. So we need a new economic explanation for human interaction." I disagree with the second part of that sentence - my argument is, "economics is trying to explain human interaction, but it's not working because human interaction is based on something that has little to do with economics."

That's why I introduced my analogy of animal behavior and climate change - those are two sciences that interact, and are influenced by each other. But they are still different sciences, and one cannot WHOLLY explain the other. Meteoroligists can tell you how increased temperatures in the arctic can affect pack ice formation at the north pole, and how that will ultimately affect sea currents and wind velocity, but they can't explain why geese will react the way they do when that happens. It's the ornithologists who have to come in and explain "here's why a later winter/a shift in wind velocity makes the geese do [schmeh]".

Similarly, I can see an economist studying "when the economy is on a downswing people tend to react thusly", or "when a person is in a relationship their spending habits tend to respond thusly" - but what I don't buy is the economist then going on to use economic predictors to EXPLAIN human emotion ("they respond thusly because they feel X amount of attachment to this other person, but if they only felt Y amount of attachment they'd respond differently"). It seems a psychologist has a better handle on that part of it ("they respond thusly because they're experiencing this emotional response, and people who are having this emotional response tend to do X").
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:46 AM on December 2, 2012


Even academic economists can be very normative. Planet Money keeps interviewing and quoting academic economists making normative statements like how gift-giving is very inefficient, without recognising the other purposes of gift-giving. Now, maybe they are half-joking, thinking "this is just a silly podcast," but economists have an influence on contemporary ideas and policies that is much stronger than most other academics - I've noticed, for example, that media like Planet money usually only call economists for their analysis of historical events and economies and rarely talk to historians who can have very different ways of looking at the same subject. (Their episode on early modern weaving guilds was an exception).

What economists say or don't say, when they don't point out that efficient markets are just about efficiency, not morality -- this matters, because both the public and policy makers listen to them an give their opinions more weight than those of other scholars.
posted by jb at 8:47 AM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Meaningless sentimental dribble that I feel does more harm than good in terms of convincing people that the current economic system needs an overhaul.

This sort of posturing for love and sentiment against utility undermines other more robust work in developing alternatives to the price system and fails to see the deeper structural issues and contradictions within capitalism today. For instance that the Efficency of Free Markets in maximizing Social Welfare is built on notions of "perfectly competitive markets" which business today are actually actively against.

Further that concepts such as Social Welfare and Dead Weight Loss that are bandied about in conversation have very distinct meanings in Economics that are not entirely consistent with the general senses. Ie they are understood quite strictly as mathematical results of Supply and Demand and really take no account of the product produced. (Consider Advertising for instance).
posted by mary8nne at 9:05 AM on December 2, 2012


Economists think this is a complete description of your mother’s love. A greeting card company could make a card for the economist to send to his mother: “Mom, I maximize your utility.”

That's one way of saying it. Another way would be that when your mother loves you, she adopts your welfare as her own.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:24 AM on December 2, 2012


Surprised at all the dislike; I thought the article was a well-argued and concise critique of economics.

The ideological framework presented by neoclassical/"samuelsonian" economics has enormous influence in policy, and I therefore think that it's a fair critique to say "economics can only think about this aspect in a way that inherently misrepresents it." And I agree that that is a problem. Models are useful, yes, but it's also possible for them to be too useful, in that they can provide shortcuts that are unhelpful or wrong. E.g. the libertarian/free market view of government, which always sees the government as the problem.

Empress, I think you are underestimating the extent to which an economics Phd and working in an economics department your whole life can shape the way you think. Yes, economists realize their science is fallible and doesn't explain everything, but it does start to define your conception of truth and validity. And economics is a practical, policy-oriented science that really does explore all kinds of human interaction. I think questioning assumptions like McCloskey and Graeber do is enormously important.

mary8nne: I agree that there are other problematic issues in economics, but is this really just "sentimental drivel" and "posturing"? Economics does model everything as a means to an end, and this can be extremely problematic because there are a lot of things that are quite difficult to factor into social welfare calculations.
posted by ropeladder at 9:27 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]




jb: "Planet Money keeps interviewing and quoting academic economists making normative statements like how gift-giving is very inefficient, without recognizing the other purposes of gift-giving."

I recall someone on that particular show including the endowment effect, and the emotional benefits the giver themselves receives. Of course it's difficult to say much about that other than perhaps the premium the giver puts on giving their gift is equal to the size of their inefficiency.
posted by pwnguin at 11:01 AM on December 2, 2012


Even academic economists can be very normative. Planet Money keeps interviewing and quoting academic economists making normative statements like how gift-giving is very inefficient, without recognising the other purposes of gift-giving.

I would take Planet Money with a grain of salt. Their interviews are designed to try and elicit the most provocative of opinions, I suspect, for their own self-interested purposes. Economists don't say that just because something appears to be wasteful that therefore it is inefficient. If we learned anything from Michael Spence's job market signaling paper, it's that everyone (humans and non-humans) sometimes has to signal their type through costly actions. I suspect in whatever purpose gifts serve, part of it is communication. This is so broadly known and understood that I really doubt any serious economist would say otherwise. All that Planet Money is getting is the lasting punchline to an old article by Joel Waldfogel entitled Deadweight Loss of Christmas. But in that paper, he probably is right. Our grandparents probably should give us the $20 instead of spending $20 on that terrifying sweater. Do I really need a signal from my grandmother anyway that she loves me?

Now, maybe they are half-joking, thinking "this is just a silly podcast," but economists have an influence on contemporary ideas and policies that is much stronger than most other academics - I've noticed, for example, that media like Planet money usually only call economists for their analysis of historical events and economies and rarely talk to historians who can have very different ways of looking at the same subject. (Their episode on early modern weaving guilds was an exception).

Of course, Planet Money also is wanting to bring the more provocative people onto their show I'm guessing. It's not like they're going to get someone who is boring to listen to, otherwise who will listen to their show? Pundits are a select group, no matter what their discipline, and to take the "pop science" pundits as though they are a reliable antenna of what most economists think or do, or what influence they have on policymakers, is really far fetched. Planet Money (which I've never listened to so maybe I'm off base) probably grabs economists because of their audience.

What economists say or don't say, when they don't point out that efficient markets are just about efficiency, not morality -- this matters, because both the public and policy makers listen to them an give their opinions more weight than those of other scholars.

This is incorrect. Economists constantly make the distinction between equity and efficiency. This is again just another reason to be suspicious of the outlet you're using to learn about economists' thinking, than it is to be dismissive of economists. From the very first chapter of the very first textbook that a student will ever see in economics -- most like Greg Mankiw's principles of microeconomics textbook (and Mankiw is a republican) -- they will be told that there's a very hard red line separating efficiency and equity. And even if efficiency is the normative objective that the policymaker pursues, markets don't even theoretically guarantee efficiency.

I think that there's more of a straw man of the economist in the minds of citizens whose primary interaction with economics is through popular science outlets, Wall Street Journal, or something along those lines. I had a paper published recently and the PR person from my university came to talk to me about it, to figure out what to write. It was genuinely almost impossible to communicate to this person what my paper was about. And I suspect I could eventually figure it out, but it would take a ton of time. It's not easy for an academic to learn how to communicate to journalists. It's something you do intentionally and purposefully. Some people have a comparative advantage in it, but even then the information has to get so incredibly distorted and changed in order to become palatable. Not because non-economists aren't smart -- but this is like a closed system conversation for the most part. I write papers for publication in journals where the editor is an economist and the referees are economists and the readership is economists. Maybe a while ago I thought a non-economist might be interested in something I write, but I don't think that way now. My whole life is research and communicating that research to economists -- not policymakers, not journalists.

Which in my mind is worth noting if only because I think that when you do see economists communicating to non-economists professionally -- as in "public intellectuals" or whatever -- they aren't representative. They're self-selected groups. And, too, they're almost always drawn from macroeconomics or finance for some reason. Which is fine, but again, not representative of most economics.
posted by scunning at 11:11 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, yes - but I don't see that this was an example of economic-decision making based on human interaction. It looks like she's saying economics is going a step further and trying to EXPLAIN human interaction.

Economics is both positive and normative. Positive in the explanatory sense, normative in the ethical sense. But even in the normative part, it is actually far less of an "efficiency is king" approach than I think many people see. There are certain schools that think that way. There's a funny story ("funny") of George Stigler giving Richard Posner a wood carving when he became a federal circuit judge. The wood carving was the Blind Justice sculpture with the scale. On one scale was a block that said "equity" and on the other side was a block that said "efficiency". And the efficiency block was larger, and the scales tipped in its direction.

But this is Chicago -- and even within the history of Chicago, I'm not sure it represents everyone from the Chicago tradition's view of price theory (of which McCloskey is actually a contributor -- even has a textbook of the name, and was once on faculty at the University of Chicago). And even if the core of it is accepted, that doesn't mean economists are like a kid with hammer.

In grand sweeping broad strokes, it looked like the thrust of her argument is: "economics is trying to explain human interaction, but the explanation it's been coming up with has flaws. So we need a new economic explanation for human interaction." I disagree with the second part of that sentence - my argument is, "economics is trying to explain human interaction, but it's not working because human interaction is based on something that has little to do with economics."

But what do you think "economics" is exactly? For modern economists, economics is the study of choices that humans make when their time and resources are scarce. Human interaction doesn't involve "economics" in what sense?

That's why I introduced my analogy of animal behavior and climate change - those are two sciences that interact, and are influenced by each other. But they are still different sciences, and one cannot WHOLLY explain the other. Meteoroligists can tell you how increased temperatures in the arctic can affect pack ice formation at the north pole, and how that will ultimately affect sea currents and wind velocity, but they can't explain why geese will react the way they do when that happens. It's the ornithologists who have to come in and explain "here's why a later winter/a shift in wind velocity makes the geese do [schmeh]".

Similarly, I can see an economist studying "when the economy is on a downswing people tend to react thusly", or "when a person is in a relationship their spending habits tend to respond thusly" - but what I don't buy is the economist then going on to use economic predictors to EXPLAIN human emotion ("they respond thusly because they feel X amount of attachment to this other person, but if they only felt Y amount of attachment they'd respond differently"). It seems a psychologist has a better handle on that part of it ("they respond thusly because they're experiencing this emotional response, and people who are having this emotional response tend to do X").


This is where I think the average person who isn't an economist but knows a little bit about economics as a behavioral science ends up getting more wrong than right. What does "explain" mean in your mind? Economists use models to "scientifically explain" social phenomena. That "scientifically" means only that the models make falsifiable predictions. Not even Gary Becker sits around and thinks that his models are the things themselves. No economist actually believes that people are solving first order conditions to determine how much laundry detergent they'll buy this week.

I point back to the Giffen good. That comes straight from the utility maximization and expenditure minimization. You can use both to get demand curves, and then work out something called a "Slutsky equation" which decomposes price changes' effects on demand into the "substitution effect" (which is what today most people call "incentives") and "income effects". There's a peculiar situation that can arise when income effects are negative -- rising prices can sometimes cause you theoretically to buy more of the good. This result is called the "Giffen good" and was named after a 19th century economist who thought he observed an increase in potato purchases during the potato famine. He was right and wrong at the same time.

In a paper a few years ago, Robert Jensen and Nolan Miller find conclusive evidence for Giffen behavior using a randomized field experiment in the rural provinces of China. Is it a big deal to the average person to point this out? Probably not. Who cares about that really? But fwiw, to an economist -- and maybe for anyone engaged in speculative scientific work where the theoretical predictions predate the actual evidence by maybe a hundred years or more -- it's a fairly major discovery. George Stigler used to lament that there was even a prediction for the Giffen good -- he saw it as a huge embarrassment. He was among other things an economic historian and knew that the potato famine experience was in fact not what Giffen thought from his limited point of view. Yet the Giffen prediction is legitimate -- it's no less embarrassing than anything else in economic theory, since they all have the same axiomatic foundations (transitive, complete, continuous preferences). And Jensen and Miller found it.

I go back to this to people because I think if you're going to carry something into the public discourse to talk about whether economics is scientific or not, or whether economic theory has a good track record, or whatever, you should take that paper. The weirder the predictions, the more I respect the underlying theory when convincing evidence is brought forth.
posted by scunning at 11:31 AM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Empress, I think you are underestimating the extent to which an economics Phd and working in an economics department your whole life can shape the way you think. Yes, economists realize their science is fallible and doesn't explain everything, but it does start to define your conception of truth and validity. And economics is a practical, policy-oriented science that really does explore all kinds of human interaction. I think questioning assumptions like McCloskey and Graeber do is enormously important.

Not sure my experience is like other economists, but I can definitely say that five years as an assistant professor and five years as a PHD student, my views are radically different. I'm an epistemological skeptic as a result of my understanding of economics. Economics is a collection of models. There is no "truth" in it. Models are held on to for a while, and then replaced by better models.

My training in applied econometrics -- particularly micro-econometrics -- did this even moreso with empirical work. The "correlation isn't causality" adage dominates microeconomic research to the point that people make fun of it. You see this far, far less imo in finance and macroeconomics, though. Maybe by necessity, but there's certain luxuries that empirical research in microeconomics has that macroeconomics doesn't -- and that is why the Fisher/Rubin "potential outcomes" model of causality dominates micro and not macro. That's why you see the "experimental design" revolution in development economics with people like Duflo, JPAL, and so forth.

Macroeconomists -- I don't envy them. They cannot nearly as easily work with the tools that are common in microeconomics for policy evaluation because they rarely have situations in which they can credibly estimate a counterfactual. When the world is interconnected, and policies are run by a foreward looking large central bank that plays strategically against a number of players, you will (a) rarely find an exogenous policy shock, but if you were to get so lucky, then (b) you will probably not be able to find a set of units that could reasonably function as controls. This cuts at the heart of the practical science of causality that dominates social research in education, economics, political science and sociology, though. Macroeconomists oftentimes are forced to calibrate the parameters in their models, or do empirical estimation with strong assumptions from theory. It's no wonder they disagree so often.

It's a totally different ballgame in labor, public, health, and development though. Not good or bad, but definitely very different types of flavors that I think is lost on a lot of non-economists.
posted by scunning at 11:39 AM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Im not so sure this article is about economics but about the cultural spillage that economics produces. There are a set of assumptions underlying the models that became the equivalent of "life imitating art", which is to say something which was a simplification and a convenient crutch on which to lean predictions against, became a description or even a prescription for how humans as economic agents should act. Ideologically, its perfect material to be appropriated because you can always argue that the lazy bums who dont maximize their economic potential in the workplace and dont make the right financial decisions should just be discarded. Like not having access to free healthcare.

There is no utility maximisation without rational behavior which to my mind is the main postulate that has been seized and transformed from intellectual simplification into rule for social conduct with frightening effects. To a liberal mind, at least.

Or like kahneman said succinctly in an interview: If you assume that economic agents are completely rational, two immediate conclusions follow. One is people don't need to be protected against their own choices—and that has been very explicitly the line of the Chicago economists, as illustrated by their opposition to social security.Another pernicious implication of the assumption of consumer rationality is that individuals need little protection from the firms with which they interact. For example, the law requires truthful disclosure, but there are no regulations about the clarity of the disclosure or about the size of the print. The assumption is that rational agents will make the effort to read the small print where it matters but, in fact, most of us don't. Nobody reads the disclosures that roll down your computer screen. You click ‘I agree' but you don't know what you're agreeing to. In the United States, especially under the influence of Cass Sunstein, the White House regulatory chief, firms are required to produce information for their clients in a form the clients can understand. I don't see that this has any drawbacks, except for the corporations. Those changes in, for example, mortgage and credit card regulations have been fought by the industry, which means the industry thinks it is to its advantage to keep customers poorly informed.
posted by Marauding Ennui at 12:07 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


the problem of maximizing social utility (how to aggregate individual utility functions) has been recognized for a while now; recall: "We are pushed back, inevitably, to the planners having to make choices which express preferences or (in a different sense of the word) values. Or, said another way, there are values or preferences — what Nove called 'planners' preferences' — implicit in any choice of objective function. This raises both a cognitive or computational problem, and at least two different political problems." [1,2,3]

also btw here's her review/critique of _what money can't buy: the moral limits of markets_ by michael sandel... oh and she seems to be channeling her fellow freshwater chicago school economist on the alleviation of poverty...
posted by kliuless at 1:49 PM on December 2, 2012


I'm surprised that no one here has mentioned heterodox economics. Or maybe I missed it among the comments.

It's clear that our current understanding of economics is fragile and flawed, and based on untenable assumptions ("perfect" rationality which is in fact pretty irrational). I wish the economic establishment would acknowledge this and allow the process of science to move forward.
posted by forscience at 9:28 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have preferences over possible states of the world and act to influence the world towards states I most prefer.

We can give these states values, with more-preferred states having higher values, and call them "utilities". The states where my friends and family are alive, happy, and healthy will have higher values, in general.

"But treating others as “inputs into a self’s utility function,” as Becker puts it, is to treat the others as means, not as ends."

The utility function is just a description of "ends". It says that I like that "end" better than this other "end". And that's why I made choices leading to the former.
posted by L0 at 12:50 AM on December 3, 2012


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