Moral Economy
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Episode 18
Featuring Samuel Bowles
Moral Economy
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Play
Episode 18
Featuring Samuel Bowles
Demetri Kofinas speaks with economist Sam Bowles about behavioral psychology, moral philosophy, and economic history. What has come of rational expectations and utility maximization? What types of systems can we design that are better suited towards the citizens of Aristotle’s legislator than to the aberrations of economic man?

In this week’s episode of Hidden Forces, host Demetri Kofinas speaks with Samuel Bowles, about economic man and the moral economy, exploring some of the latest insights from the field of behavioral economics with insights about how incentives and prices convey information and shape perceptions of value in the economy. Dr. Bowles is a Research Professor at the Santa Fe Institute, where he heads the Behavioral Sciences Program. His studies on cultural and genetic evolution have challenged the conventional economic assumptions of an economic man motivated entirely by self-interest. The author of nearly twenty books, Samuel Bowles has most recently written The Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives Are No Substitute for Good Citizens and A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution.

 

In today’s conversation, we follow the archeological record of economic man. We pursue the path towards rational expectations and utility maximization. We take the road from Aristotle, paying heed to his ethics, and to his conviction that the test of a good constitution, is a good citizenry. But, with the collapse of Rome and Europe’s descent into darkness emerge ideas of life as brutish and man, as wicked. Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan and Niccolò Machiavelli's Prince, were written to appeal to the lowest, most unimpressive motives of man's animal nature. Later, political economists like Bernard Mandeville and Adam Smith would take this notion further. They sought to harness the industries of avarice, converting man's self-interest towards the public good. The invisible hand emerged, and with it, notions of separability. Homo Sapiens existed in one realm, and economic man in another. The beneficent, moral being on the one hand, and the selfish, utility maximizing agent on the other. Laws were built upon this framework. Ideas of the marketplace were developed. Incentives and regulations were crafted, in what economists call Mechanism Design. What have we learned in the years since that have challenged the foundations of these neoclassical assumptions? What has come of rational expectations and utility maximization? What are some of the insights of behavioral economists, moral philosophers, and evolutionary psychologists that task the fitness of economic man? What types of systems can we design that are better suited towards the citizens of Aristotle’s legislator than to the aberrations of modern economic man?

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation at @hiddenforcespod

 

Samuel Bowles (PhD, Economics, Harvard University) is Research Professor at the Santa Fe Institute where he heads the Behavioral Sciences Program. He taught economics at Harvard from 1965 to 1973 and since then at the University of Massachusetts, where he is now emeritus professor and at the University of Siena from 2002 to 2010.

 

His recent scholarly papers have appeared in Science, Nature, American Economic Review, Journal of Theoretical Biology, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Behavioral and Brain Science, and Philosophy and Public Affairs. Recent books include The Moral Economy: Good laws are no substitute for good citizens, A Cooperative Species: Human reciprocity and its evolution (with Herbert Gintis), The new economics of inequality and redistribution, and Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions and Evolution). He is currently working on Equality’s Fate: The origins and future of economic disparity and political hierarchy.

 

He has also advised the governments of Cuba, South Africa and Greece, to Robert F. Kennedy and Jesse Jackson, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and to South African President Nelson Mandela.

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