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Poisoning the Well, or How Economic Theory Damages Moral Imagination

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  • Julie Nelson

Abstract

Contemporary mainstream economics has widely "poisoned the well" from which people get their ideas about the relationship between economics and ethics. The image of economic life as inherently characterized by self-interest, utility- and profit-maximization, and mechanical controllability has caused many businesspeople, judges, sociologists, philosophers, policymakers, critics of economics, and the public at large to come to tolerate greed and opportunism, or even to expect or encourage them. This essay raises and discusses a number of counterarguments that might be made to the charge that current dominant professional practice is having negative ethical effects, as well as discussing some examples of the harms inflicted in the areas of law, care work, the environment, and ethics itself.

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Paper provided by Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) in its series INET Research Notes with number 17.

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Date of creation: 28 Oct 2012
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Handle: RePEc:thk:rnotes:17

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  1. Gary S. Becker, 1981. "A Treatise on the Family," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number beck81-1, octubre-d.
  2. Ernst Fehr & Armin Falk, 2002. "Psychological Foundations of Incentives," CESifo Working Paper Series 714, CESifo Group Munich.
  3. Nelson, J.A., 2013. "Ethics and the economist: What climate change demands of us," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 85(C), pages 145-154.
  4. Julie A. Nelson, 2012. "Is Dismissing the Precautionary Principle the Manly Thing to Do? Gender and the Economics of Climate Change," GDAE Working Papers 12-04, GDAE, Tufts University.
  5. Julie A. Nelson & Steven M. Sheffrin, 1991. "Economic Literacy or Economic Ideology?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 5(3), pages 157-165, Summer.
  6. Nelson, Julie A., 2006. "Economics for Humans," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 0, number 9780226572024, September.
  7. Joseph Persky, 1995. "The Ethology of Homo Economicus," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(2), pages 221-231, Spring.
  8. Nancy Folbre & Julie A. Nelson, 2000. "For Love or Money--Or Both?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(4), pages 123-140, Fall.
  9. Dasgupta, Partha, 2005. "What Do Economists Analyze And Why: Values Or Facts?," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 21(02), pages 221-278, October.
  10. Daniel Kahneman, 2003. "Maps of Bounded Rationality: Psychology for Behavioral Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(5), pages 1449-1475, December.
  11. Mervyn King, 2004. "The Institutions of Monetary Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(2), pages 1-13, May.
  12. Mervyn King, 2004. "The Institutions of Monetary Policy," NBER Working Papers 10400, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Dasgupta, Partha, 2007. "Economics: A Very Short Introduction," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780192853455.
  14. Robert H. Frank & Thomas Gilovich & Dennis T. Regan, 1993. "Does Studying Economics Inhibit Cooperation?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 7(2), pages 159-171, Spring.
  15. Tom L. Green, 2012. "Introductory economics textbooks: what do they teach about sustainability?," International Journal of Pluralism and Economics Education, Inderscience Enterprises Ltd, vol. 3(2), pages 189-223.
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