Can economists pry into the depths of the human heart?
Homo Economicus started life as a superhuman abstraction, a useful simplification for economists concerned only with externally observable behavior. Over time, the cold, calculating, cardboard cutout of a person it embodied began to be confused for a model of what people actually do. In recent decades, behavioral economics has returned to the normative cast of H. Economicus to support the view that humans’ in-built decision-making processes, based as they are on all manner of warm-blooded factors, are biased and need correction.
As economic explorations of altruism, self-esteem, honour, shame, and other unseen psychological factors have proliferated in recent years, the discipline has edged closer to a formal accounting of the unseen motivators that drive human decision-making. Yet a formal accounting is still a long way from being realized, because few have been prepared to think and theorize deeply about the complex and unseen ideals, commitments, loves, and allegiances nestled in the hearts of human decision makers. The current state of economists’ understanding of how such factors play into real decision making is largely empirically driven, but not formalised into coherent systems of thought – and thus all but useless to policy-makers. As economists, we can do better.
This Special Issue seeks papers that consider the relevance of such unseen, typically unmeasured, yet innately human factors to productivity and welfare, and hence to policy. Included papers might look at the role of tax-paying morale in sustaining modern economies; the mechanisms through which the state can increase or decrease a population’s loyalty towards pro-social or nationalistic ideals, and the impact of this on economic efficiency; the role of education policy in delivering workers complete with internal punishment systems to promote honest behavior; or the primary mechanisms related to how love and loyalty arise, and to what economic uses they can be put by governments and organizations more broadly. The goal of the issue is to inform the identification of unifying, pragmatic, and policy-relevant ways for economists to appraise humans’ unseen, warm-blooded motivations.
Guest editor, Gigi Foster (University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia).