Monday, May 21, 2007

Martha C. Nussbaum
I spent a decent amount of time looking over the above link this morning, trying to wrestle out the valuable nuggets of information.

What seems most interesting is the possibility of combing other disciplines with economics to more properly understand standard of living (Some people also suggest that we could use fields like neuroscience and psychology to understand human decision making as well, but let's focus on standard of living for right now).
Many people have argued that the United States, while objectivley quite wealthy, actually has a lower standard of living than most European nations, because our people really aren't as happy; they just don't have access to the good things in life.
Of course, we know this just ain't true:
Nonetheless, we should recognize that there are many things that make a good life besides a high rate of GDP growth. My training in psychology has taught me that most people are happy when they are:
1. Not poor
2. Healthy
3. Have meaningful social relationships
4. Have a place in society

Just because our current measures, for whatever reason, are excellent proxies for good standards of living (and are excellent measures for measuring our strength and influence in the world) does not mean that they will always be good measures of how happy our people are. To understand that, we need to work with other disciplines, specificially on the power structures of our society. That's what I get out of reading the link above. Nussbaum has experience with these power structures (though she specifically examines women and their status). Hence, she has a lot of knowledge to bring to us.

Power structure study will also enable us to better understand the structure of the economy as a whole; simply supply and demand graphs don't show the actual gears of the economy underneath the surface of the economy. Rather, they only explain how changes in price will make those gears respond. It is an awesome and powerful tool to understanding how people make decisions, but it leaves a lot of the picture.

What is disturbing, though, is how she seems to criticize interdisciplinary studies. She may be right: true knowledge takes a long time to develop and master. But if interdisciplinary study truly detracts from the quality of our findings, we have arrived at an interesting junction in human history: we have so much knowledge at our disposal that, in order to properly integrate it, we have to slow down the path of discovery.

Very interesting, no? Yet economics is a perfect example of this dichotomy

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