Volume 1, Issue 2, 2001
Homo Economicus on Trial
Plato, Schopenhauer and the Virtual Jury
The concept of Homo economicus, one of the major foundations of neoclassical economics and a subset of the ideology of laisser-faire capitalism, was recently charged and tried in the island high court. Using the island's virtual jury system for the first time, the accused was tried before a jury of three - Plato, Schopenhauer and feminist economists - chosen by him while under a veil of ignorance of the charge. All three returned guilty verdicts. Plato's was prescriptive: 'One ought not to be like Homo economicus'. Schopenhauer's verdict was descriptive: Human nature is not Homo economicus'. The feminist verdict was both. Following the trial - described as a thought experiment - the island's resident philosopher put forward two claims: (a) Neoclassical economists base their theories on a deficient depiction of humankind (descriptive misconception) a claim supported by a witness expert in experimental economics; (b) The depiction holds a dominant but unjustified position in various discourses such as welfare state debates because it is promoted by a small but highly influential group of economically privileged, university-educated whites, namely graduates of economics, a claim supported by the sociology expert witness.