The Economics of Sin

The Economics of Sin

Rational Choice or No Choice at All?

Samuel Cameron

The Economics of Sin examines the definition and evolution of sin from the perspective of rational choice economics, yet is conscious of the limitations of such an approach. The author argues that because engaging in activities deemed to be sinful is an act of choice, it can therefore be subject to the logic of choice in the economic model.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Samuel Cameron

Subjects: economics and finance, economic psychology, social policy and sociology, sociology and sociological theory

Extract

There is no Sin except stupidity. Oscar Wilde What has economics got to do with sin or indeed vice versa? These are the questions typically asked in connection with the present endeavour. A bold initial step could be taken, from a religious point of view, by saying that economics, as defined, endorses sin by dint of its stress on individual selfishness. In the formative days of professional economics much energy was expended fending off just such criticism from humanist critics such as Charles Dickens, John Ruskin and Thomas Carlyle. The battle may ultimately have led to the formulation of the optimality conditions of welfare economics, in the early part of the twentieth century, although the answers were to be found in seminal form in Adam Smith’s monumental Wealth of Nations in 1776 when economics (or political economy as it was known) was still viewed as very much a branch of moral philosophy. The defences against this crude attack on the virtue of economics have grown in recent times, but many of them may have slipped from the view of the workaday economist besieged by the flood of research materials available and narrowed by the inevitable specialization attendant on ordering the discipline as a progressive positivistic enterprise with intensively cultivated sub-fields. A more pragmatic response is that there are many activities, which significant segments of the population consider to be sinful, generating large amounts of revenue. For those who consider this activity to be the source of negative externalities it would...