Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street

By Tomas Sedlacek | Go to book overview

10
The Axis of Good and Evil and
the Bibles of Economics

In the introduction I wrote that all economics is essentially about good and evil and the economics of that relationship.1 Despite modern mainstream economics’ efforts to avoid the categories of good and evil at all costs, or any kind of value judgments or subjective opinions or faith, it is still an open question as to whether we have succeeded —or whether it is even possible to succeed in this effort. Incidentally, the desire of economics (or of science in general) to be separate from good and evil, the effort toward positivism and value neutrality (to be outside good and evil) strongly brings to mind the time when mankind knew no difference between good and evil. Didn’t Adam and Eve lose that state by biting into the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Before that, they were value-neutral; they did not know the difference between good and evil, and were unaware in this regard. Economics (and science in general) therefore wants to know much in certain things, but in the moral area it wants to know nothing.

But we cannot run away from knowing good and evil anymore; it is now embedded in all our activity, including science. Despite this desire to be value-free, a fundamental part of our science of economics is based on normative judgments that such things as suffering,2 inefficiency, poverty, ignorance, social inequality, and so forth are bad and that they should be removed (by science). Isn’t all of science and our progress built on our hope to escape evils?

For a large part of history, the idea that ethics and economics are firmly joined together, that one has an influence on the other, has dominated. The Hebrews, Greeks, Christians, Adam Smith, David Hume, J. S. Mill, and others considered the interdynamics of economics and ethics to be a

1 Wuthnow, Rethinking Materialism, in the chapter “The Economic Absorption of the Sacred”: “As a moral force, the economy is a primary source of good and evil. The good is the very essence of the economy; it produces ‘goods’ that have ‘value,’” 103.

2 Not even this “obvious truth” is so obvious (our civilization could have taken a completely different normative development), as St. John of the Cross has a different opinion about suffering: “Because in suffering the soul continues to acquire virtues and becomes purer, wiser, and more cautious.” St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, 84.

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