I had started to do a piece about where Homo economicus was hanging in 2019. This was in no small part because of the suggestion that I came across that les Mises-erables had now gone full cannibal on Homo economicus 1. This was hysterical as here we had those who started out by assuming that humans acted rationally, now arguing that the very model of human rationality was a straw man.
But what had statted me down the path was a rather ridiculous piece by Paul Collier 2 in which he made largely the same claims as McMakken, from arguably “the other side”. Collier largely relies on Blueprint: The evolutionary origins of a good society by Nicholas Christakis 3, an intriguing anecdotal book that is, however, far less effective in arguing human eusociality than anything on offer from E. O. Wilson. 4
So, let everyone (other than admitted “orthodox” economists) agree that humans are NOT rational. They are, contra Solnit 5, not universally altruistic. They vacillate between reliance on their forebrains and their inner chimp 6 And those whose seem to have issues with their cognitive inhibitor circuits tend to be fruitcakes who are also outbreeding those that appear rational.
And now. we have come to the great spasm on the crest of COVID-19, brought to our species courtesy of SARS Co-V-2. While many of us are seeing the “better angels of our nature”7 (Pinker really should stick to linguistics) as Solnit argued, one would be blind and deaf not to be aware of the greedy, careless of Phillipa Foote 8, massing like the real zombie apocalypse. And I have to suggest at this point that the claim of rationality, today, most likelt is an admission that the claimant suffers from Dunning- Kruger 9
I am not sanguine about our future.
- Ryan McMakken, “The Homo Economicus Straw Man,” Mises Wire (blog), October 25, 2016, https://mises.org/wire/homo-economicus-straw-man.
- Paul Collier, “Greed Is Dead,” Times Literary Supplement, TLS (blog), December 6, 2019, https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/greed-is-dead/
- Nicholas A. Christakis, Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society. 2019.
- Wilson, Edward O. The Social Conquest of Earth. 2013.
- Solnit, Rebecca. Storming the Gates of Paradise Landscapes for Politics. Berkeley ; Los Angeles ; London: University of California Press, 2008.
- Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad, Morality, Radiolab, accessed December 13, 2016, http://www.radiolab.org/story/91508-morality/.
- Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. 2012.
- Lauren Cassani Davis, “Would You Pull the Trolley Switch? Does It Matter?,” The Atlantic, October 9, 2015, https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/10/trolley-problem-history-psychology-morality-driverless-cars/409732/.
- Angela Fritz, “What’s behind the Confidence of the Incompetent? This Suddenly Popular Psychological Phenomenon.,” Washington Post, January 7, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2019/01/07/whats-behind-confidence-incompetent-this-suddenly-popular-psychological-phenomenon/.