Team Adam Smith or Team Thomas Aquinas?
By Amy Willis
What makes you happy? Really, truly, happy. The limits of economic analysis in accounting for human flourishing have long lurked round the edges of EconTalk. This week, these issues take center stage as host Russ Roberts welcomes economist and theologian Mary Hirschfeld to the program.
What’s wrong with the standard economic paradigm? That depends on what you want to do with it, says Hirschfeld. She relays to Russ why she went back to get (another) PhD in theology after she’d already well begun a career in economics. Hear what she has learned along the way. And maybe take some time to start a conversation about this week’s episode with someone else. We think you’ll be glad you did.
1- Why does Hirschfeld say that scarcity really isn’t a problem for her? Doesn’t scarcity always exist? How has her study of Aquinas influenced her position? To what extent has this week’s episode made you think of the scarcity you face in your life differently?
2- What does Hirschfeld mean when she says, “…incentives shape behavior. But insofar as incentives also suggest that more is better, they also might undermine some of these other norms or other higher goods?” What sorts of “higher goods is she referring to? Roberts pushes back to suggest that sometimes, even where such higher goods are concerned, more is better, as is the case with kidney donations. With whom do you agree more? Are there some goods that are necessarily “mutated if you thought about them in monetary terms?”
3- To what extent have norms and propriety become less important in American society? If you substitute money, does it mean that norms don’t matter, as Hirschfeld suggests?
4- Should economic growth be a policy goal, according to Hirschfeld? What does her ideal economy look like? Would you like to live there? Why or why not?
5- What concerns Hirschfeld about income inequality? To what extent do you share her concern? What does it mean to “work through a culture?” How might we achieve the sort of culture change Hirschfeld seeks beyond, as she says, “dropping her pebble in the bucket” by continuing to have conversations such as this one?