A blog from the Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics (CRB)

The Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences

Pär SegerdahlIn the old days, economists received the Nobel Prize for identifying the human with an economic ideal of rationality.

Nowadays, they are awarded the Nobel Prize for pointing out that the human is not rational.

Apparently, economists know how to maximize Nobel Prize wins using an intellectual capital they never had. 🙂

Pär Segerdahl

Following the news - the ethics blog


  1. SoundEagle

    Could this be considered as the postmodern turn of economists?

    • Pär Segerdahl

      Yes, perhaps! If so, it shows that postmodernist turns are not very radical, but presuppose the ideals they pretend they question. The idea that humans are irrational because they do not function as financial investors etc. presupposes economic ideals of rationality.

  2. ernestorestrepo

    When meeting students of economy I usually asked them if they study the economies suggested by anarcho-syndicalism or the economy of the Amerindians. Of course the question is a trap, as often in economic schools students don’t even read Adam Smith. Here the university students are not to blame as they did not invent “the current climate of management by aims and objectives,[ where ] one virtue is paramount, namely efficiency. Efficiency means, in economic terms, that a certain good (product or service) is supplied at a lower cost with no loss in quality “ (Rephrased from Sharon Rider, 2016). Classical economics in the contemporary sense is the notion of the individual economizing.The idea of an individual maximizing resources with the aim of greatest satisfaction. Typical economical text books are about individuals evaluating information in order to make rational choices (efficiently). The problem is that in modern society ” with the mystification of everything, thus mystifying cultural facts as pecuniary values, the notion is that people is always economizing [optimizing for higher profit] …became the native bourgeois common sense as well as its social science”(Sahlins 2013). Evidently the west became the model of such rational but what is even more interesting is the persistence of the search for the rational aspect of it even among “the” savages. For instance when aiming to account for how the Maori or the Inuit organize their social life the economist usually argue that people is in the business of “really maximizing motherhood, chiefly honor , even friendship”. The economizing individual is a reification that converge to an ideal of a human nature of individuals with a calculating drive in the search of optimizing their pleasurable outcomes. Natural scientist are not exception in making arguments using classic economics. However it is in the marked of neuroeconomics where some scientist a putting their bet. In the new science of neuroeconomics the aim said Colin F. Camerer in the Annual Review of Economy (Camerer 2013) is to ” linking mathematical constructs and observable behavior to mechanistic details of neural circuitry ” in order to “guide the theory of how choices depend on mental states, such as fear or cognitive load”. This is possible because ” Every individual choice—pulling a voting-booth lever, signing a mortgage document, swiping a credit card, conceiving a child—is made by brain activity “. Leaving the truism that the brain is always active unless you are dead it is useful to get convinced that “all aspects of human traits and behavior are highly heritable ” say the same author, even when most studies about human psychology and behavior in the world’s top journals are based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies (Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan 2010). What strike me about neuroscientist and of course economist when comparing them let’s say with a physicists is the easiness they have to create chains of causality when so many levels of organization are in play. Usually scientist make disclosure statement about their affiliations in order to guide the readers about possible influences affecting the objectivity of the studies. Another problem is how aware they are about the myth that compose their theories. Rephrasing Sahlins these professors are “oblivious to history and cultural diversity, these enthusiasts of evolutionary egoism fail to recognize the classic bourgeois subject ..or else they celebrate their ethnocentrism by taking certain of our customary practices as proof of their universal theories of human behavior” . What result more uncomfortable to accept is that these ideologists have been shaping the universities and “ It is not only the humanities that have lost traction, but also largely all the disciplines that in the traditional university, not much more than a century ago, belonged to the Philosophical Faculty (mathematics, physics, astronomy, as well as philosophy)“ (Sharon Rider 2016). It will require a good deal of double thinking to obviate the intellectual and ethical consequences in the academia.

    • Pär Segerdahl

      Thanks for this informative and interesting comment. Economic notions of the human have tremendous influence and need therefore, in my view, to be seriously questioned, investigated, debated, inquired into.

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