Vocation and the Humane Economy

I once sat on the honors orals of an economics major who had applied a standard mathematical model to immigration.  The mathematics and data collection were well done, but the thesis was premised on the assumption we can understand immigration by analyzing a sufficiently large sample of economic data with a reputable mathematical model.  Were there other factors in immigration besides economic ones? I asked.  The question drew a bemused look from both student and faculty mentor.  The short answer was, “Theoretically, perhaps, in random and statistically insignificant cases.”  I mentioned the Pilgrims as a counterexample, but to them the Pilgrims were a prime example of “statistically insignificant.”

The dominance of economics is a fact of life today.  For some that is a good thing.  An editorial writer for the old Rocky Mountain News told me that politics was a bad way to settle public issues; economics was a better one.  This vision, sometimes called economic reductionism or economism, unites free marketers and Marxists, although the Marxists I know dislike being called economic reductionists.  They call it “vulgar Marxism.”  I once mentioned this to a free marketer in the economics department at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where I teach, who responded with a wide grin and the comment, “Well, I guess that makes me...

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