Thursday, April 7, 2011
Culture, Literature, and Economic Theory
Don Boudreaux discusses the role of culture in understanding economics at The Pittsburgh Tribune. He points out that because culture is difficult to define, economists resist including it in their analyses and theories. Which of course raises the issue of what we're doing here. Surely the analysis of literature is, to a great extent, cultural criticism. One is of course discussing the cultures of the authors in question, how they perceived those cultures, including the economic situation of the time. But perhaps there is a broader task one could engage in, which is that of helping the economists integrate culture into their models, by helping them understand the nature of culture better. And what better people to do so than those who are trying to understand culture in part by using economics? The great thing about literature is that it captures much of what was going on in a culture at a given time -- at least, as interpreted by the writer(s) of the time. This is an excellent reason why economists ought to be reading literature. Again, is it not our job to help facilitate those readings?