Economic Mind: From Attribution Error to Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Bartosz Kuźniarz (2020)

Studies in Logic, Grammar and Rhetoric, 62(1), pp. 245-264. Open Access.

Abstract. I argue in this text that the economic mind is a culturally hegemonic, naturalistic interpretation of the behavior produced by the revolutionary nature of the economic and technical developments of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Despite persistent criticism, people fulfilled the predictions of the economic model of a human being for so long that they committed an attribution error and took it to be the adequate vision of human nature. Neoclassical economic theory played a significant, even if involuntary, role in the spread of this illusion. I also claim that the concept of economic mind—as the dominant interpretation of human nature—currently functions as a self-fulfilling prophecy, reproducing behaviors that would have a chance to change (refuting the theory developed on their basis), were it not for the popularity of this concept as commonsensical definition of human nature.

Extract: “Given the various popular aberrations of the technical version of the rational maximizer model of a human being, is it truly fair to burden economic theory with responsibility for grounding the naturalistic myth of economic man? Perhaps the fault lies with the blunt recipients who, in search of the “spirit”, and thus ethical justification for their homo-economic behaviour (Boltanski & Chiapello, 2005), did not take into account the methodological subtleties of neoclassical economic analysis? […] To be sure, the claim that in certain circumstances the appeal to nature can take over the function of ethical justification isn’t particularly revealing. This is the essence of the naturalistic fallacy (Moore, 1903). It seems, however, that natural facts are currently gaining advantage over deontological arguments in the role of a culturally dominant justification (Boltanski & Thévenot, 2006) for human actions.” (p. 252/260)

Link to the article