I just finished reading an essay by Ronald Coase I had not read before – indeed, hadn’t realized existed – on Adam Smith’s thought in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. That book has occupied me a lot in the last three years, as an example of the tradition of moral psychology in economics that seems almost entirely to have disappeared within mainstream economics.
(Added: It isn’t its presence or absence in economics that actually interests me, so much as its absence within law and economics; and indeed, something close to a general denial of this kind of intellectual thought within law and economic thought – though it figures into the work of, as it were, the father of law and economics, Coase of the Coase Theorem. That’s what troubles me. What would Coase think of modern law and economics and the fact that this kind of methodology seemingly has no place within it, given that it seems to be, god help us, philosophy rather than social science?)
Coase’s exposition, in a book of essays late in his life, Essays on Economics and Economists, reads more as though it had been written by Philippa Foot, Larry Solum, Rosalind Hursthouse, or Herbert Morris, rather than an economics Nobelist of the contemporary period. Gracefully written, without the jargon of the profession, and exquisitely tuned to the relational nuances that define moral psychology – it could not be further from the surface behaviorism (whether of pure rationalism or behavioral economics) that currently defines a considerable part of microeconomics’ claim to social science.
So here is my question – and I’m only interested here in informed comments that directly give me names, thank you: What other living economists and their books can you point me to that engage in this kind of moral psychology? It helps, note, if you have read the essay by Ronald Coase or other of his writing in similar vein. The one person I can think of immediately is Deirdre McCloskey – who has written directly about the moral sentiments as such. (Maybe Tyler Cowen, author of that lovely book on commercial culture, and Alex Preda, of Framing Finance, though both of those are more sociology than relational moral psychology. Frank Fukuyama, but again, even his take on trust and political order is fundamentally sociological. Also, I’m looking for professional economists, not sociologists.)
Who else? I’d add that for this question, the institutional economics of Elinor Ostrom, important is it is on its own terms, is not what I mean: Ostrom’s writing runs in exactly the other direction, trying to find ways translate a vision of institutions, some formal and others informal, into terms already familiar and comfortable to professional economists, in their language. Coase, by contrast, in these essays writes as a humanist, not a social scientist: and, note, this is the same language as that of The Problem of Social Cost or The Nature of the Firm. So, what names and books?