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The Moral Foundation of Economic Behavior 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0199781744
ISBN-10: 0199781745
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Editorial Reviews


"This is a very interesting and timely argument....the message is important and sobering."--The Enlightened Economist blog

"Following in the tradition of Adam Smith, David Rose provides a modern economic perspective on how 'the wealth of nations' depends on 'a theory of moral sentiments.' This book provides such a theory and explains why all societies attempt to inculcate moral restraints on homo economicus. After reading it you have new insights into how and why morality is so important to economic prosperity."--Terry L. Anderson, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University and Executive Director, Property and Environment Research Center

"As members of the American body politic, we are failing to transmit intergenerational elements of our cultural heritage without which a free and prosperous society cannot exist. This book brings attention to the moral bases for the civic order that we too often take for granted. Only if we first understand what is happening can the erosion of our moral capital be turned around."--James M. Buchanan, Nobel Laureate in Economics, 1986

"How did we move from the hunter-gatherer societies of our forbearers to the complex globally-interconnected world of today? How does one maintain prosperity when localized knowledge and large numbers of market participants make 'golden opportunities' for undetected opportunistic behavior ever more possible? What sets of moral beliefs are most conducive to maximizing general prosperity, and how are they inculcated? Drawing on, but also going beyond, the ideas of such thinkers as the Smiths (both Adam and Vernon), Douglass North, F. A. Hayek, and others, as well as his own fertile mind, David Rose provides the answers to these and other questions in a book that explores the interstices of economics, cultural studies, and applied moral theory. It is a compelling account."--Bruce Caldwell, Duke University

"Modern economics is returning to its moral philosophy roots; David Rose's The Moral Foundation of Economic Behavior moves that process along by reconsidering the role of trust and culture in the economy. His approach is unique, insightful, and definitely worth reading."--David Colander, Christian A. Johnson Distinguished Professor of Economics, Middlebury College

Selected one of CHOICE's "Outstanding Academic Title of 2012"

"Economists and scholars in other fields working on culture, trust, and economic development should consider this book. Experimental economists working on trust and trustworthiness who want more insight into these behaviors should, too. Each chapter builds on the previous ones, taking the reader through organized and pointed discussions in building a case for the primacy of duty-based moral restraint to trust to economic prosperity." --The Journal of Economic Literature

"The book is an extended thought experiment launched by this question: 'If a society's sole objective is to maximize general prosperity and it can choose its own moral beliefs, what kinds of moral beliefs would it choose?' (p. 4, emphasis in original). The author proposes a sophisticated, novel, and compelling answer to this question. It therefore deserves to be read by anyone with an interest in how to promote human prosperity." --James R. Otteson, Yeshiva University, The Independent Review

"[The Moral Foundation of Economic Behavior] is so provocative, so carefully constructed, and so potentially pathbreaking, especially for a first book, that it seems to have sprung fully formed like Athena from Zeus's head. Rose's book is full of intriguing insights and provocative discussions. The Moral Foundation of Economic Behavior is an impressive achievement. It deserves a wide audience. If it gets one, it will inaugurate new and better investigation into the deep connections between morality and prosperity."--EH.Net

About the Author

David C. Rose is Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He received his Ph.D. in Economics in 1987 from the University of Virginia. He has published scholarly articles on a wide range of topics in micro and macroeconomics. He frequently contributes to policy debates through radio and television interviews and Op-Eds.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (November 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199781745
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199781744
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 0.9 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,631,103 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David C. Rose (1959 - ) was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He went to Southwest Missouri State University for his B.S. degree and earned a Ph.D. in Economics at the University of Virginia in 1987. He is currently a Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. His primary areas of research interest are behavioral economics, organization theory, and political economy. He has published scholarly articles in a wide range of areas. He frequently contributes to policy debates through radio and television interviews as well as Op-Eds in papers like the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Word on Business, The School Choice Advocate, Forbes, The Washington Times, and The Christian Science Monitor on topics ranging from social security, monetary policy, fiscal policy, judicial philosophy, and healthcare reform. He regularly teaches principles, price theory, graduate microeconomic theory, mathematical economics, and a course on the theory of the firm.

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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on May 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The standard model in economic theory assumes that arbitrarily complex contracts can be written at zero cost, and contractual arrangements can be enforced by a third party (the judiciary) at zero cost to the contracting parties. When these conditions hold, it is impossible for agents to cheat successfully, and no moral issues are involved in executing their side of the contract. When there are aspects of performance for one of the partners to a contract that cannot be third-party enforce, principal-agent models suggest that the principal can costlessly set complete incentives for the agent that induces optimal performance, so the principal is indifferent to the moral character of the agent.

The assumptions that imply the irrelevance of moral character in market exchange are, however, widely violated, and often gravely violated. For instance, an employer may prefer an honest and trustworthy worker to a self-interested worker, because the cost of monitoring will be lower and the level of effort and care delivered by the worker will be higher if the worker behaves morally. Similarly, when two firms contract for services, the honesty and trustworthiness of each may be a prime concern of the other because it is infeasible to write complete contracts.

The proof of the importance of morality is that economies in which the moral element is absent will generally operate at a low level of efficiency. Corruption and malfeasance do not mere transfer benefits from the moral to the immoral agents, they are contagious: integrity unravels when moral individuals see that they are being scammed, and respond by in turn abandoning their moral high ground. This is known as the unraveling of cooperation.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By merjet on June 7, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
The author asks: If a society's sole objective is to maximize general properity and it can choose its own moral beliefs, what kinds of moral beliefs would it choose?

Specialization, or the division of labor, is the key to prosperity. On the other hand, with more specialization comes less knowledge of the activities of others and more chances for them to exploit us. The author calls this opportunism, which he defines as acting to promote one's welfare by taking advantage of a trust extended by an individual, group, or society as a whole. (I assume such opportunism does not include entrepreneurship, since there is no breach of trust.) Opportunism drives up transaction costs and thus reduces prosperity.

Three degrees of opportunism:
1. Reneging on contracts.
2. Taking advantage of the incompleteness of contracts that cannot anticipate every possible eventuality.
3. Taking advantage of discretion that exists in a relational contract that lack specificity because the circumstances of the transactions involved are so unpredictable that flexibility is of paramount importance.

The term "golden opportunity" is used fairly often. It isn't well-defined, except for the additional condition that there is no chance of being detected. The more knowledge is localized, the more golden opportunities arise. There are hardly any examples of opportunism given.

He contrasts moral prohibitions and moral exhortations. Moral prohibitions sharply prescribe specific negative moral actions. They prescribe inactions -- don't do X -- and use no resources. Moral exhortations -- do X -- urge positive moral action, use resources, but leave some flexibility for choosing exactly what to do.
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The Moral Foundation of Economic Behavior
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