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