The Pervasive Myth of Economic Gluttony vs. the Inescapable Context of Humanity (Warrior Poet Mental Yoga 175)

The faulty assumption that scarcity-based economic thinking is somehow the de-facto human approach to questions of supply, demand, and distribution of wealth has mislead much anthropological, philosophical, and economic thought over the past few centuries. As economist John Gowdy explains, “‘Rational economic behavior’ is peculiar to market capitalism and is an embedded set of beliefs, not an objective universal law of nature. The myth of economic man explains the organizing principle of contemporary capitalism, nothing more or less.”

Many economists have forgotten (or never understood) that their central organizing principle, Homo economicus (a.k.a. economic man), is a myth rooted in assumptions about human nature, not a bedrock truth upon which to base a durable economic philosophy. When John Stuart Mill proposed what he admitted to be “an arbitrary definition of man, as a being who inevitably does that by which he may obtain the greatest amount of necessities, conveniences, and luxuries, with the smallest quantity of labour and physical self-denial,” it’s doubtful he expected his “arbitrary definition” to delimit economic thought for centuries. Recall Rousseau’s words: “If I had had to chose my place of birth, I would have chosen a state in which everyone knew everyone else, so that neither the obscure tactics of vice nor the modesty of virtue could have escaped public scrutiny and judgement.” Those who proclaim that greed is simply a part of human nature too often leave context unmentioned. Yes, greed is a part of human nature. But so is shame. And so is generosity (and not just toward genetic relatives). When economists base their models on their fantasies of an “economic man” motivated only by self-interest, they forget community—the all-important web of meaning we spin around each other—the inescapable context within which anything truly human has taken place.

Sex at Dawn

Ryan and Jethá          2010

An Orwellian Bible Study (Warrior Poet Mental Yoga 160)

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not money, I am become as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not money, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not money, it profiteth me nothing. Money suffereth long, and is kind; money envieth not; money vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. . . . And now abideth faith, hope, money, these three; but the greatest of these is money.

I Corinthians xiii (adapted)

Keep the Aspidistra Flying

George Orwell          1936