January 27, 2004

The Limits of Economics

This voluntary cannibalism thing just bugs me. Besides posting on the idea of human ownership, I'm bothered with the idea that ultimate ends are a proper study of economics. Economics is essentially the science of resource allocation. But ultimate ends are not resources, only means are.

I started off by leaving this in comments to the economics of cannibalism story:

Another argument is that economics does not apply to the subject. Economics is the rationing of resources. That a person's time is a resource is fairly well established and subject to the rules of economics. That a person is a resource to be disposed of according to economic rules is not established in the least. Are people means to an end or ends in and of themselves. If they are ends, cannibalism cannot be properly the subject of economics.

People's acquisition and expense of resources are all in service to an ultimate end and that end, when traced back as far as it will go, is usually some pleasure or usefulness to a person or persons. Thus, much of what is economically analyzed as ends are merely subsidiary ends, means to a greater end. There is no greater end than people, no means that they can be properly spent using purely economic analysis. This is why we don't have widespread human medical testing, for example, even though it would save countless lives and accelerate medical progress. Societies (Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan) who organize such programs are viewed with horror because they have transgressed into treating ends as means.

The entire premise of the thread is just wrong. Cannibalism has no economics.

There is a thirst for seamless explanations. It partially explains the enduring appeal of the communist as opposed to the capitalist enterprise. Capitalism is an economic system that tends to be paired with certain political and social systems. Communism is a seamless garment that explains politics, economics, and social relations. But the difficulty of creating such a seamless construct, a theory of everything, has meant that so far nobody has succeeded in coming up with such a thing. If somebody ever did, it truly would be the end of history. There would be nothing left to fight over.

Economics is an important science. But unless you turn it into a religion, it does not answer all of life's questions. It certainly doesn't answer the problem of voluntary cannibalism.

Posted by TMLutas at January 27, 2004 11:34 AM