Faith and Flat Economics
Religion & Liberty Online

Faith and Flat Economics

econwatchjournalThe latest edition of Econ Journal Watch has a symposium, co-sponsored by the Acton Institute, on the question, “Does Economics Need an Infusion of Religious or Quasi-Religious Formulations?

In his essay “On the Usefulness of a Flat
Economics to the World of Faith
“, Andrew P. Morriss considers the role of faith in correcting how economics flattens the perception of human nature and human existence:

To what extent is economics unduly flat? Compared to the Christian conception of human nature, what McCloskey (2006, 135) terms “Max U” is certainly flatter. Is it unduly so? It is true that for Christians utility ought not to be just about material wealth. As Proverbs 30:8 puts it: “Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me.” That attitude is not what immediately comes to mind when I think of Max U, although one could play with utility functions to incorporate it. But that acknowledgment does not mean that a utility maximization model is unduly flat; it rather depends on what we are trying to accomplish. If the goal is a mathematical model, Max U’s flatness offers significant benefits. The flatness allows us to see the question being modeled more clearly in at least some cases. Of course, not all (or perhaps even many) models are useful, so relentlessly applying Max U is not always going to yield benefits that are worth the cost. But so long as we remember that models are tools rather than reality, some models are useful. Indeed, one of the strengths of McCloskey’s Bourgeois Dignity (2010) is that she deploys economic tools effectively to make the point that step beyond just economics is needed to explain the Industrial Revolution (see Morriss 2010).

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Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).