Sunday, November 27, 2005

What Do Economists Economize On?

There exists in every human breast an inevitable state of tension between the aggressive and acquisitive instincts and the instincts of benevolence and self-sacrifice. It is for the preacher, lay or clerical, to inculcate the ultimate duty of subordinating the former to the latter. It is the humbler, and often the invidious, role of the economist to help, so far as he can, in reducing the preacher's task to manageable dimensions. It is his function to emit a warning bark if he sees courses of action being advocated or pursued which will increase unnecessarily the inevitable tension between self-interest and public duty; and to wag his tail in approval of courses of action which will tend to keep the tension low and tolerable.
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What does the economist economize? ' 'Tis Love, 'tis love,' said the Duchess, 'that makes the world go round.' 'Somebody said,' whispered Alice, 'that it's done by everybody minding their own business.' 'Ah well,' replied the Duchess, 'it means much the same thing.' Not perhaps quite so nearly the same thing as Alice's contemporaries thought. But if we economists mind our own business, and do that business well, we can, I believe, contribute mightily to the economizing, that is to the full but thrifty utilization, of that scarce resource Love -- which we know, just as well as anybody else, to be the most precious thing in the world.
--Sir Dennis H. Robertson. 1956. "What Do Economists Economize On?" in Economic Commentaries, pg 147-154.

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