Chapter 1: Economists and the Family
Page 1 1. Economists and the family 1 THE ECONOMICS OF NONMERCANTILE CONDUCT One of the most remarkable characteristics of economics towards the close of the twentieth century is its scope. Far from dealing only with strictly ‘economic’ problems—market and price analysis, money, banking or economic cycles—economists today do not think twice about studying matters that are far from their usual fields, such as the behaviour of politicians, the efficiency of law, family life or drug addiction. This is the ‘imperialism of economists’s, welcomed by some as a first step towards a unified social science based on the theory of rational choice,1 and rejected by others as unacceptable interference in the study of human conduct which, say the critics, has nothing to do with the rationality and maximization of utility that economists assume. But there is nothing new in economists showing interest in human behaviour and the institutions that govern society. The origin of their interest goes back to the very birth of economics as a scientific discipline. To give one wellknown example, Adam Smith, who was a Professor of moral philosophy and law, dealt fully with the role of the institutions in economic development both in The Wealth of Nations and in other works.2 This trend continued with classic economics. And it is no surprise that John Stuart Mill, for example, should have devoted several pages of his Principles of Political Economy to subjects such as education, the legal protection of children or the...
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