[EconTalk] Mary Hirschfeld on Economics, Culture, and Aquinas and the Market

Mary Hirschfeld on Economics, Culture, and Aquinas and the Market

20/05/2019 by EconTalk: Russ Roberts

Web player: http://podplayer.net/?id=71224313
Episode: http://files.libertyfund.org/econtalk/y2019/HirschfeldAquinas.mp3

Author, economist, and theologian Mary Hirschfeld of Villanova University talks about her book, Aquinas and the Market, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Hirschfeld looks at the nature of our economic activity as buyers and sellers and whether our pursuit of economic growth and material well-being comes at a cost. She encourages a skeptical stance about the ability of more stuff to produce true happiness and/or satisfaction. The conversation includes a critique of economic theory and the aspect of human satisfaction outside the domain of economists.

Listen Date: 2019-06-15


  • This reiterates my usual, not very vehement complaint about EconTalk that Russ Roberts always focuses on the best aspects and outcomes of religion and theology, without acknowledging the worst.
  • That caveat in place, I do wish they had spent more time on Aquinas and less time on the current state of economics. I would have found that more interesting. This is a book to wishlist, though.
  • Russ Roberts has been saying for a few months (at least) now that sociology has a lot to teach about the areas where economics falls short. Now, if only I knew a sociology podcast (or other reading material) for lay people who were interested in bridging that shortfall.
  • I am not sure I agree with Mary Hirschfield’s examples about sunk cost, especially the gym one. The sunk cost is a financial one, and the benefit of going anyway is a non-financial one. But maybe I didn’t get it and need to read the book to see it in context. The one about giving up on your concert ticket rang a little truer to me, perhaps because of my guilt about giving up on a classical music concert whose ticket I had purchased.
  • Just as I would like an introduction to sociology; I would like something to listen to that talks about self-discipline and living a life free of the temptations of materialism and glamour. On that aspect, though, I don’t know if there’s anything very new to know. It’d be more about how people practice it, and having that steady example in front of you to emulate and not fall off from.
  • I think that last year I started noticing a connection between philosophy and mental health. A lot of EconTalk episodes actually sparked my noticing this connection. One thing centres around Russ Roberts’ favourite Adam Smith line to quote: ‘Man desires not only to be loved, but to be lovely.’ I wonder if the breakdown from wanting to be both is a type of mental illness or immorality, and how one draws the line. Wanting to be loved without also wanting to be lovely could be a sort of narcissistic personality; and not wanting to be loved or lovely could be a sign of sociopathy. This reminds me that I need to also write my blogpost about the monsters in the Discworld books.
  • This episode echoes what Alice Fraser keeps mentioning in the Tea With Alice podcast – that you can call something priceless, but that ends up meaning that you treat it the same as something that is worthless.
  • The host and guest bitched a little about self-esteem being the only virtue left; and while it can possibly go too far, I suppose self-esteem does go hand in hand with individual dignity and may be an antidote towards identifying with or tying yourself to an authoritarian. But maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part.
  • Were they quoting Robert Frank, who did the episode on status goods and the benefits of a consumption tax?

All in all, an enriching episode.

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