Love and utility

Great article in The European magazine about a well-known flaw in classical economics: by assuming everyone is utility-maximizing, we leave little room for non-selfish forms of happiness, like love. McCloskey suggests these additional more human considerations are what economics is missing:

You may be a rotten kid, an ax-murderer on death row in Texas. You’re not even a high-school graduate. You give her “nothing but grief,” as we say. In all the indirect, derivative ways you are a catastrophe. And yet she goes on loving you, and stands wailing in front of the prison on the night of your execution. Economists need to understand what everyone else already understands, and what the economists themselves understood before they went to graduate school, that such love is of course commonplace. It is common in your own blessed mother, and everywhere in most mothers and fathers and children and friends.

You see it in the doctor’s love for healing, in the engineer’s for building, in the soldier’s for the homeland, in the economic scientist’s for the advance of economic science, down in the marketplace and up in the cathedral. Such loves, or internal goods, defeat the economistic view that all virtues can be collapsed into utility. Utility is the measure of an ends-means logic, prudence only. Loving some end, however, goes beyond means. The [Samuelsonian view of economics] can deal only with the means of life, not its meaning.

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