Book review – Economics of good and evil by Tomas Sedlacek

This book marks a fadownloadscinating departure from mainstream economic thought and provides the reader with a captivating smorgasbord of interactions across many diverse fields such as mathematics, psychology, theology, sociology and physics. Its essence is deeply philosophical and it seeks to synthesise a combination of narratives in a holistic manner that many contemporary postmodern readers should find deeply attractive.

Taking the earliest recorded writing, The Epic of Gilgamesh, as its starting point, and traversing a huge array of literature and thought, Sedlacek argues that at its core, economics is about wisdom and morality (i.e. emotional and spiritual intelligence); not the rather limited rational scientific game played out in spreadsheets and abstract mathematical calculations which has evolved from neo-liberal ‘principles’ characteristic of the last 40 years of global economic ‘development’. Not only has this latter approach been deeply problematic as the debt crisis of the last few years clearly demonstrates but our recent ‘take’ on economic life has marked a disturbing reductionist departure from human wisdom. This is the case where biblical truths about humanity, and its ills, have been wrongly divorced from daily economic activity. From a theological perspective then, this book is a welcome bridge in bringing ancient wisdoms and contemporary thought back into the key moral debates of our time.

Chapters 2 and 4 include a comprehensive analysis of biblical perspectives, sandwiching a revisit of Ancient Greek philosophical thought. Treatment of the content in the latter chapter reminds us that many modern conceptions of the market and exchange of goods find their genesis in the classical writings of Xenophon, Plato and Aristotle; it isn’t simply about Adam Smith and Enlightenment thinking only! The real nuggets are unearthed in Sedlacek’s discussion of the ills of our time in which he questions our insatiable ‘need’ for economic growth and our obsession with work which come at the exclusion of almost everything else.

Behaviour economics has welcome consideration in the discussion on animal spirits and the moral vacuum that contemporary economics appears to prefer and operate within. In essence, as the title suggests, Sedlacek’s book seeks to bring humanity back into economics. This won’t go down well with Wall Street, but it is a welcome re-engagement with those of us who are deeply concerned about the idols of our time; money as the bottom line by which everything else is defined and has its meaning, being chief of all (the concept of ‘financialisation’). This book is a tour de force of human development. Its trajectory clearly suggests that our ‘progress’ is not as enlightened as we often think. It is a rewarding if somewhat demanding read as it does jump around and is challenging for those not used to reading across so many fields with such diversity.

I was, however, a little disappointed with the lack of engagement with the ‘green agenda’ and contemporary environmental ethics. Dealing with today’s global ecological crises needs to be at the heart of any contemporary economic engagement. To conclude, the book doesn’t promise solutions but masterfully brings economics back within the human realm where it belongs…oikonomia truly regained! It is a highly recommended work.

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