You might think that the family would be safe from the cold logic of economists but, as Gary Becker long ago demonstrated with his models of the marriage market and children as durable goods, the economic approach knows no bounds! It can ask an economistic question about anything and get an economistic answer. (Whether that's helpful for anything except the publishing record of that economist is another matter.) I recently came across one such example of economics imperialism in the question: Are children public goods? Or else private goods? My answer: No and no. They're children.
Friday, 28 October 2011
Saturday, 22 October 2011
How religion became secular
Once upon a time religion was in the world and made the world. Religion made the messy chaotic world legible to human understanding and amenable to human purposes. It fixed things in place, like the stars in the sky and the differences between men and women. It ordered the flux of time and events into meaningful cycles of life, whether the turning of the sun, seasons, and harvests or birth and death. It explained and justified the social order: why one man is born to wealth and power and another to be a serf. It told us with all the force of a mighty and all-encompassing metaphysics what our lives really meant, and how we should act, think and feel. But no more. Religion has been brought low by its old foes, philosophy and politics. Religion persists and is even popular. But it is now in the mind, a matter of personal belief projected outwards ('faith'). In short, religion is now secular.
Saturday, 8 October 2011
The art of business and the science of economics
Business and economics are tied up together in lots of people's minds. After all, they're both about money, aren't they? An awful lot of people seem to believe that economics is Big Business and business is small economics. (Even the generally reliable Economist magazine seems to use this definition in deciding what should go in its business or economics sections.) The failure to keep the two apart leads to some bizarre misconceptions in the popular understanding. For example the idea that countries are businesses in competition with each other, or that business is about self-serving greed and economics is the soulless science of large scale greed.
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