Chapter 30: Homo Economicus
Carlos Rodriguez-Sickert Homo economicus or economic man is a model of human agency in which the individual actor maximizes his own well-being given the constraints he faces. This approach has become the prevalent approach to human behaviour among economists, and has permeated other social sciences as well through so-called ‘rational choice theory’. For instance, rational choice theory has been used to analyse crime, voting behaviour and educational choices (Becker, 1992). Historical antecedents The birth of homo economicus as we understand the concept nowadays is found in the work of John Stuart Mill. The concept was developed in his Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy (1844) and full-fledged in his Principles of Political Economy (1848). In his Essays, Mill wrote: [Political economy] does not treat of the whole of man’s nature as modified by the social state, nor of the whole conduct of man in society. It is concerned with him solely as a being who desires to possess wealth, and who is capable of judging of the comparative efficacy of means for obtaining that end. It predicts only such of the phenomena of the social state as take place in consequence of the pursuit of wealth. It makes entire abstraction of every other human passion or motive; except those which may be regarded as perpetually antagonizing principles to the desire of wealth, namely, aversion to labour, and desire of the present enjoyment of costly indulgences. (Mill 1844, Essay V, Ch. 3) Mill’s model of behaviour embodies a commitment...
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