Economics and Religion, at Econ Journal Watch

The new issue of Econ Journal Watch is online at

In this issue:

A symposium co-sponsored by the Acton Institute:

Does Economics Need an Infusion of Religious or Quasi-Religious Formulations?

The Prologue to the symposium suggests that mainstream economics has unduly flattened economic issues down to certain modes of thought (such as ‘Max U’); it suggests that economics needs enrichment by formulations that have religious or quasi-religious overtones.

Robin Klay helps to set the stage with her exploration “Where Do Economists of Faith Hang Out? Their Journals and Associations, plus Luminaries Among Them.”

Seventeen response essays are contributed by authors, representing a broad range of religious traditions and ideological outlooks:

Pavel Chalupníček:
From an Individual to a Person: What Economics Can Learn from Theology About Human Beings

Victor V. Claar:
Joyful Economics

Charles M. A. Clark:
Where There Is No Vision, Economists Will Perish

Ross B. Emmett:
Economics Is Not All of Life

Daniel K. Finn:
Philosophy, Not Theology, Is the Key for Economics: A Catholic Perspective

David George:
Moving from the Empirically Testable to the Merely Plausible: How Religion and Moral Philosophy Can Broaden Economics

Jayati Ghosh:
Notes of an Atheist on Economics and Religion

M. Kabir Hassan and William J. Hippler, III:
Entrepreneurship and Islam: An Overview

Mary Hirschfeld:
On the Relationship Between Finite and Infinite Goods, Or: How to Avoid Flattening

Abbas Mirakhor:
The Starry Heavens Above and the Moral Law Within: On the Flatness of Economics

Andrew P. Morriss:
On the Usefulness of a Flat Economics to the World of Faith

Edd Noell:
What Has Jerusalem to Do with Chicago (or Cambridge)? Why Economics Needs an Infusion of Religious Formulations

Eric B. Rasmusen:
Maximization Is Fine—But Based on What Assumptions?

Rupert Read and Nassim Nicholas Taleb:
Religion, Heuristics, and Intergenerational Risk Management

Russell Roberts:
Sympathy for Homo Religiosus

A. M. C. Waterman:
Can ‘Religion’ Enrich ‘Economics’?

Andrew M. Yuengert:
Sin, and the Economics of ‘Sin’


The copy and paste process really mangled the text there.

A problem that goes all the way to the top, apparently - formatting a comment has its own issues.

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Is there any field that needs "Quasi-religion"?

The arguments for the necessity of religion are pretty straightforward. Some people believe that God or supernatural forces exist, and if so, then one should be informed by those beliefs.

Others do not believe themselves but still think religion can be beneficial, because such beliefs improve the lives of believers and/or society (I am aware that not every non-religious person believes this, and indeed many believe quite the opposite. The point is simply that such an argument is made).

However, isn't "quasi-religion" like openly marketing a drug as a placebo?

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I'm pretty sure the comments on this post are going to be even worse than usual, which is saying something.

The best remedy is to participate in the good discussions that do happen and ignore the rest.

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This is a very sympathetic project. I like the "finite versus infinite goods article". But I'm afraid that the "flat", "Max U" thinking has become too powerful to influence economics anymore. I don't think ethics nor religion has any chance in the current economic (and political) atmosphere with it's rationalistic mood of "every man for himself". It is interesting to see modern philosophers searching for some new form of "faith" (the "religion for atheists" movement). And to see economists searching for some concept of "honor" (see Taleb). Somewhere along the way we threw away the child with the bathwater and I don't think we can recover it soon. Note: this is just a test hypothesis, I'm interested in your opinions.

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it is difficult to relate the religious beliefs of economists to their economic ideas. Like, Milton Friedman was an atheist but one need not be an atheist to hold that inflation is a monetary phenomenon. And the demand curve slopes downwards, irrespective of ones religious beliefs!
Is religion needed for infusing ethical thinking in economics? Amartya Sen has been a leading advocate of the need for ethical thinking in modern economic discourse , but he is an atheist. Again, one need not be an atheist to agree with him. In fact, Martha Nussbaum, who collaborated with Sen to develop his capabilities paradigm, is a convert to Judaism.
After reading the papers I am still convinced that one's religious faith , or the absence of it, need not have anything to do with one's economic ideas. Deirdre McCloskey was an atheist and a neoclassical economist in the past when she was Donald ; she is now a christian ... and still calls herself a " feminist, free market, neoclassical economist". Becoming a christian did not change her economic ideology. And why should it?

Speaking of Deirdre McCloskey, you are correct that she is now a Christian economist. But some of her views have changed. She has written about how "prudence"= Max U should not be the only way we think about economics. We should also include some of the other virtues: charity, justice, etc. So while she still thinks that the market is the best framework, we should not discard these other virtues in the name of pure laissez faire.

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The modern era has helped us purchase the death of God satisfactorily: are we to understand that some kind of "buyer's remorse" has brought us to this hand-wringing? Do our sciences' theocratic self-conceptions and the miraculous accomplishments of applied technology begin to look so pale so suddenly?

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I'm not sure that 'Max U' is not 'religious'. I see it as a very useful model where 'U' is an actors value hierarchy.

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Economics *is* a religion.

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One can repudiate Max U without believing in religion. I think Sen has been critiquing Max U for decades without holding any religious sentiments

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Things in common between economics and religion.

They share the goals of "how to make things better" and then have most acrimonious debate on what "better" means, and even in cases of broad agreement on what "better" is there will be further acrimonious divisions on how to get there.

Oh, except for in religion usually debate is not welcome except as an intermediate stage to being directed to a particular vision of truth. Peut-être c'est a cause de ca que la plus ça change ...

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