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Buchanan on Becoming

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Back in 2006 [2] I mentioned Jim Buchanan [3]‘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? [4] (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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