I am a fan-boy of the work of the political economist Tony Gill, see this earlier post. I also find him personally very good company. But that is a different point, lets focus again on his overall work. So I am very attracted to his discussions of religious liberty and overall liberty and his plea for consistent thinking. But at a methodological level, I also greatly appreciate his common-sense defense of the rational actor model and the economic approach to the study of organized religion. The recent EconTalk podcast with Tony and Russ Roberts is very good on this.
Listening to Tony I was reminded of Philip Wicksteed's basic presentation of the universality of the logic of rational action, and his discussion of the "economic" nexus in The Common-Sense of Political Economy. First let me quote from my own preface to the latest edition of Wicksteed's classic:
Wicksteed deploys the basics of economics to explain not just the universal applicability of decision making on the margin to all realms of human conduct, but develops a theory of the market process animated by exchange; a theory of factor pricing and the equalization of returns; and a general theory of social cooperation emerging out of the purposive behavior of individuals within the market economy.
I encourage the reader to take notice of Wicksteed’s prefatory quote from Goethe: “We are all doing it; very few of us understand what we are doing.” Wicksteed is about to explain to his readers how in our ordinary lives we continually exhibit the economic theory of decision making and interaction even when we ourselves have no idea what we are doing. “In the ordinary course of our lives,” Wicksteed begins his book, “we constantly consider how our time, our energy, or our money shall be spent.” Living a life without philosophical understanding does not mean that our behavior defies philosophical explanation and scientific examination. Economics, in this sense, is little more than applied common sense. As Frank Knight argued about Wicksteed’s work, the “master-theme is that economic theory is merely a clear working-out of the ‘common-sense’ of the administration of resources, and particularly that the same principle governs the organization of production and consumption.” The same principle at work on both sides of the market is the human capacity to strive to realize the biggest bang for the buck, and when played off against one another results in the equalization of returns for effort across all margins. But this isn’t true only in the commercial context. We strive to do this in all our endeavors.
I follow this up by quoting Wicksteed's discussion of the marginal benefit/marginal cost calculus that Caeser engaged in when deciding when to cut his exhortation to his troops before battle.
But an even better example for the sort of work Gill is engaged in, is Wicksteed's discussion of Paul and his tent-making occupation in Corinth.
Yup even in the most sacred of human endeavors, the economic calculus guides our actions.