Friday, June 12, 2009

Pattern of this World

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -his good, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:2

Famous economist Alfred Marshall said, "Economics is the study of ordinary life." Beyond the commonly held view that economists focus on the stock market (which you certainly know is not true if you've been reading this blog), economics has the privilege to work with humans and the way they associate, group, and make decisions. But, there is also great difficulty in explaining human behavior. Let me explain.

When a hard scientist holds out a rock from their body and lets go, the rock falls. The rock always falls, it is governed by the law of gravity. Unlike the rock, which has no choice, humans are not dominated by the law written on their hearts (Jeremiah 31). Instead we have free will. Therefore, human behavior is much more nuanced and difficult to explain by any positive theory. I will describe what that means in a bit.

Lately I have been reading a book titled "Deep Economy" by Bill McKibben. His book is very provocative and will be the subject of future blog posts, but, he absolutely bludgeons economists on their promotion of the individual. Quoting English critic Richard Douthwaite in his book, "[Economists] are forced to ignore the possibility that irrationality, prejudice, love, community solidarity, idealism, upbringing, . . . [lots of other good things economists are forced to ignore] because if they abandoned their twin simplifying assumptions of rationality and pure self interest . . . the world would remain so complicated they would have nothing to say about it." Ouch! But, this is not a new commentary, other social scientists are appalled that economists use the model of self interest to predict human behavior. But, this is key, I think they are confusing normative and positive theories.

Normative theory explains what should be done. Positive theory explains what will happen.

To be certain, there are some economists that believe everybody should act in their own self interest, but, they are a minority. Otherwise I believe many economists think people ought to act in an other regarding manner. Economists simply use self interest to explain human behavior because the model of self interest is more frequently correct in explaining what people will do than any other model. Self interest is hands down the best positive theory available to the social sciences.

Then economists have uncovered the chief pattern of this world: self interest. Since we are admonished by Paul not to conform to the pattern of this world where does that leave us? To consider others better than ourselves (Phillippians 2:3). To do unto others as we would have them do unto us (Luke 6:31). Finally, if we refuse to conform to our own self interest we are promised the ability to discern God's will! That means that if we yield to God our own way the precious gift of life in the spirit will be able to take hold.

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