Buchanan on Becoming

by Don Boudreaux on March 12, 2011

in Complexity & Emergence, Curious Task, Economics

Back in 2006 I mentioned Jim Buchanan‘s 1978 essay “Natural and Artifactual Man” as being one of my very favorite pieces of economic insight.  I can’t find a link to this paper, so let me share here a few quotations from it, as it appears in Jim’s collection What Should Economists Do? (All emphases below are in the original.)  Buchanan’s appropriate dissatisfaction with mainstream economic theory is here on display.

“[M]odern economic theory forces upon us patterns of thought that make elementary recognition of the whole ‘becoming’ part of our behavior very difficult to analyze and easy to neglect” [p. 95].

“The metaphor of ‘capital’ investment seems misplaced when we think of a person’s outlay of time and money on information, on knowledge.  A person is not investing with the aim or purpose of increasing the size of an objectively measured income stream in perpetuity, a stream that may be converted into consumption by the selfsame person or his heirs.  He is investing in becoming a different person that he must become as he acquires knowledge and wisdom; he cannot do otherwise than become different.  And as he does so, he must embody a different ‘utility function.'” [p. 97]

“Why should anyone have ever tried to model a community of separate persons teleologically, as if somehow ‘social states’ could be, or should be, arrayed in some order of ascendancy, in terms of a single maximand?” [p. 108]

“Choice requires the presence of uncertainty for its very meaning.” [p. 109]

“But I am here advancing the more radical notion that not even individuals have well-defined and well-articulated objectives that exist independently of choices themselves.” [p. 111]

Man wants liberty to become the man he wants to become.  He does so precisely because he does not know what man he will want to become in time.” [p. 112]

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