Economic Person

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  • Book: The Economic Person. By Peter Danner.



Edward J. O’Boyle:

"The Economic Person is a direct challenge to neoclassical economists to re-think economics by replacing the concept of the individual, which dates from the 17th and 18th centuries when economic affairs were predominantly local, with the concept of the person which is much more relevant to the overwhelmingly global economic affairs of the 21st century. Danner’s understanding of the person originates with the classical Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle and the economics of the ancient Jews. His argument is that a proper analysis of economic affairs begins with the economic agent, specifically the economic person. Several insights from The Economic Person help capture the tone of Danner’s extended argument. (1) The economic person disappeared into the rationality and gain-seeking of homo economicus and the mathematical and quantitative methods of neoclassical economics (Chapter Two).

(2) Person is an amalgam of contraries -- body and spirit, male and female, individual and social, “I” and “Thou,” unified and changing, free and constrained -- whose development depends on sorting out the conflicts between those contraries (Chapter Four).

(3) Neoclassical economists exclude the person from economic analysis by absorbing all personal values, however important in economic decision-making, into price. Economic rationality transforms into moral perversion when “Thou” is completely disregarded. (Chapter Six).

(4) Gain-seeking in the form of profits, economic rent, and consumer surplus by itself does not assure the common good (Chapter Seven).

(5) Though the hopeful expectation of acquiring economic gain is necessary to motivate economic agents to compete in economic affairs and the actual experience of taking possession of that gain is necessary for them to remain engaged, some limit on gainseeking is required to elicit the cooperation needed to work together and live in community. Three virtues or good habits -- moderation, justice, and generosity -- help constrain gain-seeking and thereby make community a possibility (Chapter Eight).

(6) The economy can be described as an assortment of physical things such as factories, farms, forests, mines, roads, bridges, and the like. However, it is much more fundamentally a network of human persons acting as buyers and sellers, employers and employees, borrowers and lenders, producers and resource-holders, and in other economic roles (Chapter Nine).

(7) The social values of liberty, equality, and fraternity are the necessary foundations for the three principles of competition, government mediation, and cooperation that organize the central activities of a market economy: buying and selling, employing and producing, borrowing and lending, innovating and investing (Chapter Ten).

The Economic Person challenges everyone in economics, whether orthodox or heterodox, to begin at the beginning, to construct their economics around flesh and blood economic agents primarily and physical things only secondarily, to examine more carefully how humans conduct themselves in economic affairs especially in matters where conflicts must be resolved, and to draw their conclusions with greater appreciation for the profound mysteries which are at the heart of the human condition and greater acceptance of the uncertainty that necessarily follows from not knowing human beings more fully."