Nancy Folbre has written a blog piece on social responsibility and the logic of economics. Her piece is a response to Ed Glaeser’s post about the moral heart of economics. To quote his piece; “Economists are often wary of moral exhortation, as many see the harm so often wrought by arguments that are long on passion and short on sense. But don’t think that our discipline doesn’t have a moral spine beneath all the algebra. That spine is a fundamental belief in freedom.”
In reading their respective pieces, I have realized that I’m still not a good philsopher. Now that I’m a middle aged scholar I thought that I would have acquired some wisdom about the age old questions but that ain’t true. Folbre makes some nice points about how to embed Glaeser’s vision into an overlapping generations framework. When you are born, you are not “free to choose”. Your parents make decisions for you and you slowly acquire your freedom. You make your adult choices and shocks to your health, your earnings and your parents’ health affect the realities you face. When you are old, you begin to lose freedom as you delegate choices to others over your lifestyle, finances and daily activities.
The cliche among economists is that each person on our diverse planet has his/her own conception of the “good life” and that free market capitalism is the only system that co-ordinates our varied desires without there being war and Mad Max style competition for resources. I believe this.
At the same time, Prof. Folbre wants to start a property rights debate. What do we owe each other? If I pay my taxes and don’t commit crimes, do I owe anyone anything else? Most economists would say “no”.