For Love, Not Money

Dec 2 2012 @ 7:09am

Deirdre McCloskey critiques economics for claiming "that all human behavior can be captured in 'maximizing a utility function,' which says that happiness depends on how much stuff you get." She finds thinking in this way causes us to misunderstand that most basic of human experiences, love:

[T]reating others as “inputs into a self’s utility function,” as [Gary Becker of the University of Chicago] puts it, is to treat the others as means, not as ends. Immanuel Kant said two centuries ago in effect that your mother, if she is truly and fully loving, loves you as an end, for your own sweet sake. 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.