Journaltalk - Sympathy for Homo Religiosus

Sympathy for Homo Religiosus

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  • Russell Roberts
Volume Number 11
Issue Number 2
Pages 227-232
File URL Sympathy for Homo Religiosus
Publication year 2014

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Categories economic, economics

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  1. “My worry is that our methods may be encouraging us to see human beings as pieces on a chessboard whose motions and working we purport to understand. This in turn makes us prone to become men and women of system, with an overconfident vision of what will serve to improve the well-being of the chessboard we are managing.

    The religious view, and the Smithian view, of man encourages a humbler approach to human welfare. We are complicated creatures, we human beings. The road to improvement isn’t as well mapped as we might like to believe. Recognizing the complexity of human motivation should make economists, and others, more humble about their ability to intervene in private choices in a way that is welfare enhancing.”

    I like this point, but I don’t think it’s our methods that encourage us to think we know what government interventions are good for people. Rather, that’s the default way of human thinking. It takes a couple years of economics training to get someone to realize that the price controls he thought increased human welfare don’t work out as he’d thought they would. In a diverse society, however, religion can help with that too. If you are religious, it is impossible to pretend that everybody agrees as to the summum bonum. You can no longer say, “Well of course littering is immoral. Of course it’s better if people are free from guilt. Of course there’s nothing wrong with putting a sick old person out of their misery. Of course nobody should listen to Rush Limbaugh. Of course everybody should go to church. Of course someone should be allowed to smoke marijuana.” You have to argue about what the goals are, and you may develop more appreciation of compromise and healthy doubt as to whether it’s a good thing to allow the people who control the government to impose their own preferences as to these various issues.

    posted 30 May 2014 by Eric Rasmusen

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