Revising homo economicus from within

If you believe that the homo economicus caricature is just too obscure and dismal, you are probably right: people cooperate much more than what a simple PD game predicts…  But before you run away searching for an “heterodox answer”, you should probably read two nice papers by Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis on the compelling evidence for “other-regarding, process-regarding, and endogenous preferences” sorts of behavior.
Homo Economicus and Zoon Politikon: Behavioral Game Theory and Political Behavior
Oxford Handbook of Contextual Political Analysis, 2006
The Evolutionary Basis of Collective Action
Oxford Handbook of Political Economy2006
By the way, this is Gintis on the false promise of post-autistic / heterodox economics:
“In June 2000, several Parisian economics students circulated a petition calling for the reform of their economics curriculum. Their complaint was the inability of the neoclassical economics they were studying to satisfy their need for a deep understanding of the operation of real-life economies. They called for a reform of the university curriculum that would tolerate analytical diversity and foster critical dialogue across contrasting approaches to economics. (…) This reform movement has grown in Europe, under the rubric of “post-autistic economics.”

(…) the post-autistic economics critique is incapable of leading to positive change in how economics is done and taught. The central critique is that neoclassical economics does not describe real-world economies, and must be replaced by or supplemented with other approaches. This is just wrong. While the elementary courses are far from the real world, advanced courses in such areas as labor, international finance, macroeconomic policy, economic development, law and economics, environmental economics, and so on, are quite real-world. If an undergraduate students left with a degree in economics that allowed them to understand The Economist and the Journal of Economic Perspectives, the level of economic awareness in the world would be considerably higher. If the undergraduate curriculum does not bring students to this level, the curriculum is, to my mind, faulty. Perhaps less stress on arcane theories that are relevant only to professional economists should be replaced by a more historical, institutional, and hands-on approach to microeconomic and macroeconomic issues. But, this is a critique of pedagogy, not of economic theory.

Neoclassical theory has displaced other approaches around the world because it is currently the only promising approach to economics. Marxism, Keynesianism, Institutionalism, Syndicalism, Austrian economics, and the like developed strongly for a while and then foundered. They certainly do not present analytically interesting alternatives to neoclassical economics. It is not an accident that all over the world, including India, Japan, China, and many countries in Latin America, the reform of higher education has involved the introduction of modern neoclassical economic theory. With all its flaws, it is the only credible starting point for serious economic analysis.

Neoclassical economics has profound problems, but they can only be addressed from within, not by embracing any “heterodox” alternative that I know of. The pleas for democracy, toleration, and pluralism by the “heterodox” is simply an admission that they can’t win the intellectual battle by having better theories, only by having more troups.


1 thought on “Revising homo economicus from within

  1. Estoy viendo un partido de baloncesto en España y no tengo ganas de hacer un comentario sobre el fondo. Solo un apunte ¡como ha cambiado Gintis¡ ¿También Bowles?

Comments are closed.