I Spend, Therefore I Am

I Spend, Therefore I Am by Edward Skidelsky

to read Edward Skidelsky’s review of Philip Roscoe’s book published January 21, 2014 in The Guardian, click on


I Spend, Therefore I Am is a splendid denunciation of the dismal science in the grand tradition of Dickens and Carlyle. Not only does economics embody a false image of man, claims Philip Roscoe; it remakes him according to that false image. It “brings into being the agent about whom it theorises: self-interested, calculative and even dishonest”. It has recast each of us as an “entrepreneur of the self”…

Two mechanisms are central to Roscoe’s account. The first is the incentive. Economists treat all human behaviour as responsive to monetary costs and benefits. “The typical economist believes the world has not yet invented a problem that he cannot fix if given a free hand to design the proper incentive scheme,” write Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner, authors of the bestselling Freakonomics. Roscoe agrees and argues that incentives have been disastrously influential, not least in justifying bankers’ bonuses. The trouble with monetary incentives is not that they don’t work – often they do, at least in the short term – but that they “crowd out” other, nobler sources of motivation: professional pride, institutional loyalty and public spirit. They bring into being the kind of person they presuppose, shrewd and mercenary. As popular wisdom has always known, if you treat people like knaves they will behave like knaves.

The other villain of Roscoe’s story is measurement. Scoring systems now exist for everything under the sun, including quality of life, intellectual achievement, sex appeal and other such intangibles. Embedded in governmental and corporate software, these systems shape the very conduct they claim to measure.

more at www.nextnewdeal.net, www.foreffectivegov.org, www.freembtranslations.net, www.onthecommons.org, www.worklessparty.org, www.storyofstuff.com, www.progressive-economics.ca and www.therealnews.com

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