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Beyond Self

Ethical and Spiritual Dimensions of Economics


Laszlo Zsolnai

This book addresses ethical and spiritual issues in economics. The central idea advanced in the book is that the extreme focus on the self by economic actors leads to the destruction of both material and non-material values.
The assumptions of self-interest in behavior represent the core of mainstream economics today. From this perspective, the welfare of economic agents depends on their own consumption; their goal is to maximize their own welfare; and their choice is guided by the pursuit of their own goals.
Throughout the book the author argues that self-interest-based actions and policies have a detrimental impact on nature, future generations, and society at large. If we want to survive and flourish in the material world we have to transcend the self and embrace wholeness. This value shift requires enormous changes in economics, politics and social life, but there may not be any other option in light of the current state of ecological degradation and human suffering.
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Chapter 2: The Moral Economic Man

1 Economic Behavior


← 11 | 12 → ← 12 | 13 → CHAPTER 2

The Moral Economic Man*

Economic behavior is multifaceted and context-dependent. However, the so-called Homo Oeconomicus model states that agents are perfectly rational, self-interest-maximizing beings. This model can be criticized on both empirical and normative grounds. Understanding economic behavior requires a more complex and dynamic framework.

In the “I & We” paradigm developed by Amitai Etzioni, economic behavior is co-determined by utility calculations and moral considerations. Two major factors can explain the ethicality of economic behavior; namely, the moral character of the agents and the relative cost of ethical behavior.

Economic agents are moral beings, but the ethical fabric of the economy determines which face of the Moral Economic Man predominates.

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