Sociologists study the economy in almost exactly the

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Sociologists study the economy in almost exactly the opposite manner in which economists study it. That is, economists look at numbers, self-interest of the individual and numerical relationships and hold all other “social” factors to the side (saying that, although “social” factors make a difference, they do not change fundamental economic realities). For them everything can be reduced to numbers. The reason for this is simple: economics wants to be a predictive science. The easiest way to do this is to create a model of human behavior that is very easy to predict. So, economists accomplish this by assuming that humans are always maximizing good things and minimizing bad things (economists define this as an actor’s individual self-interest). This allows them to reduce everything to numbers. One does not need to know exactly what a person’s wants and desires are to be able to predict behavior (remember algebra? We don’t have to know the values of X and Y to be able to create a formula…). Thus, human behavior is actually quite simple to understand in economics and because of that, easy to predict. We say exactly the opposite. Although self-interest is important, numerical relationships can be held aside, because it is the social influences that really matter. We see economic activity generated by the same forces that generate all other forms of social activity: love, passion, hate, status, revenge, sex and so on. Competition and self-interest certainly play a role in these, but it is not simply about what is best for “me”…it is also what is best for “we.” Sometimes “me” and “we” even conflict with one another, for instance in the form of self-sacrificial behavior in support of a group. It would not be appropriate for me to sell cat meat on the quad because doing so would violate most of my potential “customers’” morals and sense of decency. This is cultural. So is, we sociologists contend, all economic behavior. Our goal is to rescue economics from the mathematicians! But to do this we have to take a trip back in time to the beginning of our course. That’s right, we are going to talk about those durn Three Dead White Guys! For all the differences that they had (and they had a lot), if you think about it, the one thing they shared in common was a belief in the efficiency of the market. A second idea they shared was a notion that “Society” and the “Economy” ran on different “tracks” or with separate logics. Think about it. The economy was thought to follow one set of rules, while society followed quite another. Marx thought that the economy would eventually self-destruct and be overthrown by socialism because of the amount of social destruction it would bring. “Society” would simply sit back and let this happen, or worse, would be slavishly devoted to the economy until the “you-know-what” hits the fan!

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