Michael Sandel On The Dangers Of Thinking Like An Economist

February 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

Before I came to Harvard, I followed Michael Sandel’s famous undergraduate course on Justice online. So when I heard that he was speaking on ‘The Dangers of Thinking Like An Economist’ at the Law School yesterday, I knew I had to go.

His argument followed his thinking of his last book that he has articulated in many interviews since then.

Something memorable to take away are his pointing out of two false assumptions that neoclassical economics builds the entire discipline on:

  1. Markets are inert – they don’t change the goods that are being traded. Yet there are some goods that exist but simply cannot be bought (friendship, a Nobel Prize for example) and others where there are enough ethical concerns for us to say they should not be bought (healthy organs). 
  2. Market relations save us from ‘squandering’ our finite altruism. Neoclassical economics sees our virtues as part of a zero-sum game, whereas we know that intrinsic values like friendship, love and kindness are like muscles that grow stronger the more often and intentionally we use them.

Two nice things to have up your sleeve next time you’re talking this through with someone…

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