Does economics make you selfish?

Philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel has been investigating whether ethics professors are more moral than other people, and it turns out, they’re possibly less. He’s now turned his attention to economics and wonders whether too much exposure to ‘rational choice theory‘ – that says it’s always rational to maximise profit – makes people more selfish.

Surprisingly, there have been several studies on exactly this topic, several which seem to suggest that economics students are more selfish than other students, but these all seem to be flawed in quite important ways.

They either use exactly the same sorts of tasks that students study in class to demonstrate that ‘selfish’ actions are the most economically rational strategy, or they rely on self-report – something also potentially biased by the association between ‘selfishness’ and irrationality.

Apparently, only three studies have looked at the link between studying economics and real-world selfishness, and none provide good evidence for the link.

Schwitzgebel has a bigger issue in mind than simply investigating the personal habits of economists, however.

This is part of his project to question the utility of certain types of theory. For example, if studying ethics makes people no more ethical and studying economics makes people no more economically rational, how useful are they?

Link to post ‘Does Studying Economics Make You Selfish?’.

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