Sympathy for Homo Religiosus

By: Russ Roberts

In: Econ Journal Watch, 11(2)

Date: May 2014

Key Quotes

  • Role of individual in standard view of economic theory:
    • Human beings are integrated, consistent, maximizing, utility-seeking, calculating creatures.
    • Fundamentally self-interested.
    • Goal is to maximize utility through consumption.
    • Value of freedom is to increase utility via maximization of choice.
      • Knowledge maximizes utility and creates efficiency.
  • Role of government in standard economic theory:
    • Maximize the size of the pie.
    • Distribute the pie in order to maximize more general concept of societal well-being.
    • Correct for various shortcomings in either personal or market decision-making.
      • Externalities, public goods, imperfect information, paternalistic regulation (behavioral errors)
  • Individual in religion:
    • Human beings seek meaning, have conflicting goals and desires.
    • Fundamentally flawed and imperfect.
    • Tendency to pursue short-term pleasure at the expense of longer-term satisfaction.
      • Restriction of choices is (sometimes) beneficial.
    • Sacrifice and restrictions enhance well-being.
    • Power of community.
    • Importance of using skills and gifts to make the world a better place.
  • Need to recognize limitations of standard economic theory…
  • Passions within Reason – Robert Frank
    • Some behavior makes sense only as a product of moral emotions.

Evolution sometimes favors “strategically irrational” behavior – signaling.

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