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Inspiring Economics

Human Motivation in Political Economy

Bruno S. Frey

Bruno S. Frey illustrates what he perceives to be the inspirational quality of economics and how this differs from the type of economics studied in many academic institutions. He introduces insights into economics from a psychological perspective, dealing with issues such as transformation of anomalies, identification in democracy and crowding effects, and focuses on intrinsic motivation and how it is undermined.
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Chapter 1: Inspiring, Dismal or Boring Economics?

Bruno S. Frey


ECONOMICS TODAY In the days of the classical economists, such as Malthus or Marx, economics was considered to be a dismal science. The future looked bleak; catastrophes, such as famines, or the destitution of the working class, were considered to be inevitable. Today, the situation is totally different. Economists are probably the most optimistic of all social scientists; they truly believe that the major problems of mankind can be solved by adequately using prices and markets. The problem with economics today is that it has turned from a dismal science into a boring science. A long-time editor of the most prestigious professional journal in the field, the American Economic Review, has the following comment to make about his work: What was remarkable was the absolute dullness, the lack of any kind of new idea, that predominated in the selection of papers I got. Close to a thousand papers a year – and I swear that the profession would be better off if most of them hadn’t been written, and certainly if most of them hadn’t been published. (Clower, 1989, p. 27) Present-day economics is concerned, to a considerable extent, with selfdefined problems that few, if any, other persons are interested in. There is a well-known joke about economists, stating that: ‘An economist is someone who cannot see something working in practice without asking whether it would work in theory’. This joke is only partly right. Unfortunately, most economists do not look at the real world at all. Rather, they live...

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