Since 2008, profound questions have been asked about the driving forces and self-regulating potential of the economic system, political control and morality. With opinion turning against markets and self-interest, economists found themselves on the wrong side of the argument. This book explores how the past of economics can contribute to today’s debates.
The book considers how economics took shape as philosophers probed into the viability of commercial society and its potential to generate positive-sum outcomes. It explains how dreams of affluence, morality and happiness were built upon human greed and vanity. It covers the bumpy road of the construction and reconstruction of this dream, exploring the debate on the foundations, conditions and limitations of the idea of the social utility of greed and vanity. Revisiting this debate provides a rich source of ideas in rethinking economics and the basic beliefs concerning our economic system today.
1. Shifting narratives and the emergence of political economy, 1.1 Shifting narratives, 1.2 Perspective and aim, 1.3 The ascent of the positive-sum narration, 1.4 Outline of the study; 2 The rise of greed in early economic thought: from deadly sin to social benefit, 2.1 Introduction, 2.2 The first stage: the self-sufficient community, 2.3 The second stage: the mercantile state, 2.4 The third stage in greed’s rise to serviceability; 2.5 Conclusion; 3 The Mandevillean triangle, 3.1 The powerful mix of pride and greed, 3.2 The debate in perspective, 3.3 Mandeville, the basic model and its challenges, 3.4 Hume: sociability and the socialisation of vanity and greed, 3.5 Rousseau: ‘public identities, private unhappiness’ 3.6 Mirror images of commercial society; 4 Adam Smith’s struggle with Rousseau’s critique of commercial society, 4.1 Balancing out favourably? 4.2 Smith’s general frame of thought, 4.3 Adam Smith’s first response in the Theory of Moral Sentiments and the Early Draft of the Wealth of Nations, 4.4 Strengthening the argument: the second edition of The Theory of Moral Sentiments and the Wealth of Nations, 4.5 The two roads of the sixth edition of the Theory of Moral Sentiments, 4.6 Growing doubts; 5 Self-interest after Smith: from passion to behavioural assumption, 5.1 Turn of the tide, 5.2 A new frame of reference unfolding, 5.3 Malthus’s third way, 5.4 Ricardian economics, Bentham’s utilitarianism and the Philosophical Radicals 5.5 Christian theology, the Oriel Noetics and methodology of political economy 5.6 The concept of self-interest: from passion to behavioural assumption 5.7 The cutting edge of romanticism 5.8 Conclusion; 6 The wheels of ‘greed, and the war amongst the greedy’, 6.1 Robert Owen, 6.2 Thompson’s inquiry to reconcile security with equality, 6.3 Friedrich Engels, 6.4 Marx’s analysis of the ‘war amongst the greedy’, 6.5 Opposite narratives 7 The neoclassical turn and the fading-out of greed and pride, 7.1 Political economy in disarray, 7.2 The neoclassical turn and the redefinition of self-interest, 7.3 The fading-out of greed and pride in economics, 7.4 Veblen’s pecuniary culture and invidious distinction, 7.5 Shading into sociology; 8 ‘It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity’, 8.1 Ousting greed and pride, 8.2 Belief in the positive-sum narrative
Rudi Verburg was assistant professor in the history and philosophy of economic thought at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Recently he joined the research project ‘What Good Markets are good for’ as part-time researcher at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He has published books and articles on topics ranging from values and institutions, social cohesion, solidarity and care, and the history of economic thought.