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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.
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Chapter 5: Envy and Jealousy

Rational Choice or No Choice at All?

Samuel Cameron


Jealous: adj. Unduly concerned about the preservation of that which can be lost only if not worth keeping. Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary (1911) INTRODUCTION I will defer for a short while discussion of the difference between envy and jealousy, as far as their uses in economic contexts go. First, I review the discussion of these in the Bible and some key texts from later rationalist thinkers. Envy and jealousy are part of the monastic ‘seven deadly sins’ discussed earlier. They have been condemned for much longer: in the King James’ Bible we are told in Ecclesiastes 30:24 that ‘Envy and wrath shorten the life’, thereby depriving us of the atmosphere benefits attributed to religion which we discussed in Chapter 2. In the Bible, jealousy is cited in reference to the wrath of God, which may lead to vengeance if believers lapse into idolatry and false faiths in general. Jealousy elsewhere in the Bible is interpersonal, generally between brothers or between sisters, but is not particularly based on wealth or position. In the Concise Oxford Dictionary jealousy is unhelpfully defined as ‘envy’, although it is also given as ‘resentment’ and there is some discussion that jealousy is more used for situations involving sexual desire than envy is. Envy has a slightly different biblical grid of reference than jealousy. It is brought forth as a factor in the misfortunes of Jesus and the prophets. Indeed, one could interpret the life of Jesus, in purely secular terms, as a broadly mythical morality...

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