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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 8: Addiction

Rational Choice or No Choice at All?

Samuel Cameron


INTRODUCTION . . . the process of weaning one’s self from the deep bondage of opium, by many people viewed with despairing eyes, is not only a possible achievement, and one which grows easier in every stage of its progress, but is favoured and promoted by nature in secret ways that could not, without some experience, have been suspected. [Low (1911, p. 64)] So wrote Thomas de Quincey, nearly 200 years ago, in his Confessions of an English Opium Eater. De Quincey is one of the few (perhaps the only) to have written publicly about the anatomy of drug addiction and the highpoints of the prevalent economic theory of his time. Indeed, shortly after the passage quoted he goes on to explain how working on his critique of Ricardian political economy, which appeared eventually in the form of a Socratic dialogue, helped lift him from the sloth encountered in a serious ‘down’ phase of his addiction. It might be claimed that addiction is intimately connected with the sin of lust. Lust may lead to addiction which in turn leads to the promotion of further lust in the form of an unbearable craving which may over-ride the rational choices that a person would make in the absence of the drug. The trend in general thinking has been to see addiction as a biochemical misfortune brought on by specific elements contained in a consumption good. Such goods range from those currently seen as non-sinful such as chocolate, tea and coffee (which were not always seen...

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