The Little Prince and economics as a ‘social science’

«Grown-ups love numbers. When you tell about a new friend, they never ask you about the important things. They never say: ‘What does his voice sound like? What are his favourite games? Does he collect butterflies?’ They ask you: ‘How old is he? How many brothers and sisters does he have? What does he weigh? How much does his father earn? Only then do they feel they know him. If you say to grown-ups: ‘I saw a beautiful pink brick house with geraniums on the window sills and doves on the roof,’ they can’t picture it. You have to say: ‘I saw a house worth a million.’ Then they marvel: ‘What a lovely house!’»

The Little Prince (Chapter 4, pp. 21-22)

Undoubtedly this is my favourite part of the book. When I read this it inevitably reminded me of the criticism that Thorstein Veblen (1857-1029) made of neoclassical economics. All human relationships cannot be analysed in commercial terms. Nonetheless, the penetration of this type of analysis – neoclassical metaphysics – has been very strong. Nowadays, we cannot be surprised when we see economic analysis of politics, economic analysis of law, or more recently – the economics of happiness. The question is, how much can we learn about these issues from a pecuniary study approach? Could we not be committing a bigger methodological error?


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