A Broken Dream: The Economist



Many blame greed, avarice or love of money as the driving force behind our troubled economic times. Having propagated the social utility of greed, economics is said to share part of that blame. This paper refines this point of view, arguing the historical specificity of the claim of the social utility of greed. It first shows how 18th century philosophers built a dream on the idea of greed as instrumental in establishing the material foundation of progress. Economics was launched as a two-staged project, in which following the economic logic of greed (wealth) would create the necessary context for its moral logic (social and moral progress). In the 19th century this two-stage project balanced between hope and fear and increasingly inspired controversy. Casting doubt on the beneficial effects of greed, voices grew louder to focus on the scientific part of the project. Eventually the dream went sour when optimistic claims about the logic of greed failed to come up to expectations. The ensuing reorientation in economics prepared the way for the notion of the social disutility of greed.
The Business History Seminar has been made possible by financial support from the Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM) and the Vereniging Trustfonds Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam.
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Abe de Jong Ben Wubs
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