What is the economy for? – Thoughts from J.S. Mill

I know not why it should be matter of congratulation that persons who are already richer than any one needs to be, should have doubled their means of consuming things which give little or no pleasure except as representative of wealth – J.S. Mill Watching economics become untethered from its origins in political economy could […]

If economic efficiency doesn’t increase well-being, what is it good for?

Economists, after rejecting the idea that we could compare one person’s utility with another person’s utility, set out to find a value-neutral criteria of socially optimal arrangements. The phrase, ‘value-neutral criteria’ should have been their first clue that this would be a doomed quest, but instead they settled on Pareto optimality. In brief, a situation […]

Rational Fools: Amartya Sen’s Critique of Economic Theory

The formalizing of self-interest as an economic principle was largely the work of Francis Edgeworth. It is sometimes wrongly traced back to the work of Adam Smith. While Smith wrote about self-interest, he actually had a much, much more nuanced view of both when people would behave out of self-interest and when self-interested behavior could […]

Men earn $1.30 for every $1 women make

Men have a clear earnings advantage over women in the current U.S. labor market. Although we normally talk about women being at a disadvantage and earning only 77 cents for every dollar men make, this only serves to reinforce the perception that men are the norm, a standard to which women should measure up. Actual […]

Facts, Values, Economics, and Experience

Economists like to think of much of their work as a scientific description of the world, free of moral or ethical content. The people who write and think about ethics and economics are engaged in normative economics, while those who describe the world as it is practice positive economics. However, the very practice of positive […]

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry’s fictional novel, Jayber Crow, provides a number of interesting passages that relate well to the major themes of this blog. Jayber is the barber (and church janitor) in Port William, the fictional small Kentucky town that serves as the setting for most of Berry’s fiction.  As a child at a religious orphanage, Jayber winds up going […]

Experiencing Self: Utility :: Remembering Self: Virtue Ethics

In Daniel Kahnemahn’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, he draws a distinction between the ‘experiencing self’ and the ‘remembering self.’ Like most conceptual models it is imprecise, but it nonetheless illustrates a few useful points. The experiencing self is the self that is concerned with our present state of being. The remembering self looks back at […]