The vast chasm between classical economics and the humanities is widely known and accepted. They are profoundly different disciplines with little to say to one another. Such is the accepted wisdom. Fortunately, Professors Gary Saul Morson
and Morton Schapiro
, both of Northwestern University, disagree. In their new book, Cents and Sensibility: What Economics Can Learn from the Humanities
(Princeton University Press, 2017), they argue that the mathematically rigid world of classical economics actually has a lot to learn from the world of great literature. Specifically, they argue that "original passions" (the term is from an overlooked work of Adam Smith) in the form of culture, story telling, and addressing ethical questions are found in great works of literature, but lacking in modern economic theory. Good judgment, they write, "cannot be reduced to any theory or set of rules." Along the way, they weave together Adam Smith, Lev Tolstoy, Jared Diamond, college admissions practices, the US News and World Report rankings, and the family. This is an ambitious and original work. Many will disagree with it, but few will be able to put it down.
Daniel Peris is Senior Vice President at Federated Investors in Pittsburgh. Trained as a historian of modern Russia, he is the author most recently of Getting Back to Business: Why Modern Portfolio Theory Fails Investors
. You can follow him on Twitter @Back2BizBook or at http://www.strategicdividendinvestor.com