Economics Imperialism Reconsidered

In Uskali Mäki, Manuela Fernández Pinto & Adrian Walsh (eds.), Scientific Imperialism: Exploring the Boundaries of Interdisciplinarity. New York, NY, USA: pp. 140-160 (2017)
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This paper reconsiders whether rational choice and game theory represent cases of economics imperialism. It follows the work of Uskali Maki who analyzes the significance and characteristics of disciplinary imperialism in natural science and social science. "Economics Imperialism" is a term often used to describe the increasing impact and reach of economics with respect to its encroachment on other disciplines including political science and psychology. Maki provides a framework for assessing whether the influence of one discipline on another could be a case of "good imperialism" consistent with unification and greater explanatory power. The paper examines whether in the case of economics, "rational choice imperialism" is a better understanding of the question of contention. Rational choice has been used to model addiction, sex, marriage, sleep, and suicide. Applying tools offered by Maki, this paper argues that although the imperialism of rational choice over multiple disciplines provides a unified means of modeling human action, it does not demonstrably achieve deeper understanding of either individual or collective action. Furthermore, rational choice modeling may alter the human practices it analyzes if it is used in public policy. Thus although rational choice offers a means to check for deductive consistency within and among its models, it has elements suggestive of the "bad disciplinary imperialism" that Uskali provides a means to critique.

Author's Profile

S. M. Amadae
Massachusetts Institute of Technology


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