Homo Economicus: An Apology

Homo economicus might well be described as a sociopath if he were set loose on society.
This is a quote from Herb Gintis’s book Game Theory Evolving that behavioral economists, especially those of us studying social preferences, like a lot. After all, homo economicus, the idealized economic agent that maximizes their own material self-interest, are devoid of such basic human motivations like fairness, reciprocity, honesty, among others. It only seems right to deride them as lacking all the nobler parts of being human.

Over the past year or so, I’ve come to think that this is rather unfair to homo economicus. In particular, it also means that homo economicus is free of many of the all too ignoble parts of being human. After all, homo economicus is not sexist, racist, elitist, to name a few of the unpleasant qualities of the human species. I think it’s not crazy to say that a bit more of homo economicus might do the world some good right now.