May 5, 2014

"He said that, unlike Marxists, he rejected the assumption that individuals were motivated solely by the prospect of selfish, material gain."

"Rather, he insisted, 'behavior is driven by a much richer set of values and preferences' that can also include altruism, loyalty and spite."

From the NYT obituary for Gary Becker, the great economist of "everyday life."


B said...

Economic agents maximize self interest. That's not simply synonymous with selfish, material gain.

Hagar said...

Odd thing to say. I thought it was only us capitalists that motivated solely by the prospect of selfish, material gain, while the imposition of a socialist society will inspire everybody to think only of the welfare of the community.

Though it was Engels who came up with the catchy slogans, not Marx.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

B said...

Economic agents maximize self interest.

Economic agents, when acting rationally, attempt to maximize self interest.

Some pretty big caveats in there.

David said...

Becker explores an aspect of "income inequality" (From his essay "Human Capital" in "The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics."):

The old adage of “from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” (the idea being that someone starts with hard work and then creates a fortune for the next generation that is then dissipated by the third generation) is no myth; the earnings of grandsons and grandparents at comparable ages are not closely related.2 Apparently, the opportunities provided by a modern economy, along with extensive government and charitable support of education, enable the majority of those who come from lower-income backgrounds to do reasonably well in the labor market. The same opportunities that foster upward mobility for the poor create an equal amount of downward mobility for those higher up on the income ladder.

David said...

I pulled out the Gary Becker quote above after about a three minute search. You don't have to dig far to mine gems from Becker. Also, he was able to explain economic concepts in clear and accessible prose.

betamax3000 said...

From the Book of Betamax:

When thou shall choose to stomp the Devil's grapes thou shall not complain of the taste of thy wine.

Lotta good stuff in the Book of Betamax.

William said...

To the extent that an economist is worth reading, he sounds like an economist worth reading. Economists are a like nutritionists. Their advice is subject to change without notice. There's a point where astrology became astronomy. I don't know if we've reached that point in economics or nutrition.

B said...

Ignorance is Bliss said:

Economic agents, when acting rationally, attempt to maximize self interest.

Some pretty big caveats in there.

As Gary Becker's body of work has shown, a rational agent model can get surprisingly close to observed phenomenon. People are too quick to drop rationality.

Roger Sweeny said...

And, of course, "rational" in economics only means consistent. Which turns out to be not as common as one might suppose.

tim in vermont said...

I act out of spite. I only fill my tank with ethanol free gasoline when I know that the modest increase in fuel economy does not outweigh the tax subsidized economy of using the ethanol vs the premium ethanol free.

I just don't want to be a part of the rape of the Gulf of Mexico for the profits of the Farm Lobby.

Two best reasons to get rid of the electoral college are:

The Food Pyramid, which sentenced a generation of high rates of obesity in order to sell more grain.

Ethanol, which is polluting the Mississippi and using up the remaining bits of wild prairie while not saving any CO2 emissions in order to sell more grain.

I guess giving every state, no matter how sparsely populated, two Senators has something to do with it too.

Hagar said...

Don't know that economics have that much to do with it.
Socialism is a religion that seems to trump all other religions.

I am reading Anne Applebaum's "Iron Curtain - The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956," and she writes about Jewish Communist leaders promoting persecution drives against the general Jewish populations in these countries in their zeal to establish communist states at all costs.

I knew that the war was not over in eastern Europe just because the Nazis had surrendered, and that some nutty and awful things happened, but I had not known that.

n.n said...


Left-wing regimes are notoriously atheist and amoral. They struggle to respect individual dignity and acknowledge intrinsic value. While religion (i.e. moral philosophy) does not guarantee an outcome, it does motivate it. Dissenters are prevented from running amuck by competing interests.

Hagar said...

I have no idea what that is supposed to mean.

I was commenting on something I think truly awful; to foment violent persecution of your own people just to create a diversion from criticism of your political party.

Hagar said...

BTW, before anybody comes swinging out of their trees ....
The east European Jews were hardly alone about this. It is just the most eye catching, given the celebrity of the Nazi Holocaust, then just exposed for all the world to know about.