This morning I had a very interesting conversation with Andrew Bryce from Sheffield University. We are staying at the same hotel, we are attending the same conference-so it was natural. Today’s topic was the economics of well-being, naturally expressed by the main plank of today’s sessions “The Good Economy”. Andrew is engaged in the economics of happiness and well-being (these are interrelated concepts as I realized today, but not interchangeable at all). There were loads of new things for me to learn today. Andrew explained that the economic man conceptualized as the homo oeconomicus in the neoclassical orthodoxy is not happy at all. Robinson spends his whole life consuming, he is lonely, and he is particularly unfamiliar with the the concept of altruism, for example. By the way, the concept of happiness and the measurement of that are extremely complicated, since the happiness we feel, our own, personal happiness depends on a lot of factors. Andrew’s current research is about the impact of weekend working on well-being. People who need to work at the weekends may work according to schedules very different from their family’s, relatives’ and friend’s timetable. This may raise personal problems. Another problematic area is measurement. For example, one needs to say how much happy he is on a scale from 1 to 10. If I happen to label my perceived momentary happiness as 7 while you give it a 6, is it sure that I am happier than you…?
Today’s plenary sessions was opened by Jan Peter Balkenende. He was the Prime Minister of the Netherlands from 2002 to 2010. A couple of years ago he retired from professional politics and became a partner at E&Y and a professor of Governance, Institutions and Internationalisation at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Actually, he lost an election so he chose to quit. Very sympathetic.
His lecture was an interesting piece. He believes in freedom, not in chaos. So unbound capitalism is something to avoid. For him, social market economy is the best example, it should be the model for every nation. This is the reason why the German model is so appealing to him. But these are rather commonplaces. What is the point?
He excessively reacted to the very recent phenomenon of populism. This is an effect-the effect of nations’ not having concrete and positive visions of their future. The middle-classes failed to form such visions. Consequently, European societies cannot avoid facing the problem that nowadays Europe is mentioned rather in negative contexts. Instead, people need to restart talking about values. And this is related to European identity as well. What makes us European? What is the ultimate source of our European identity at all? The values are. Even private companies ask themselves from time to time: what and why they do? This is also a question of values. Of values, legacy and purpose. What is the conclusion? We need values and we need to talk about them.
There is an age-old manifesto in traditional money-making: the business of business is business. This manifesto is believed to be related to mainstream economics (it was Milton Friedman who kept repeating it for a while), so in some scientific circles the position of mainstream economics is not that favourable. We cannot defend mainstream economics till the end of time by saying that this is an abstract theory, so you cannot blame us for not having answers to particular questions we never ask. Yes, we don’t have answers to institutionalist issues on purpose. However, a lot of people are interested in problems which we are aware of at best, so if we cannot offer them answers, they are going to drop us. This is the reason why it is urgent to place mainstream economics in a context. In an institutionalist context.
In the afternoon Erik Angner opened the sessions with his talk on the phiosophy of happiness. Actually, his lecture can be easily put in a broader context. Why does science need philosophy…? And what does this need stand in at all? Those professionals having a sceptical attitude got a serious impression on the importance of getting involved in doing philosophy. I do believe that no professional can keep ignoring philosophy in the long-run. If he attempts, if he insists on doing no philosopy… he can only pay lip-service to his own ignorance, but at the same time he must do philosophy, even if implicitely. Not making philosophy an explicit background is a mistake, since doing so we can deprive ourselves of the possibility of addressing problems that require an explicit philosophical approach. Even my intellectual home country, the mainstream-institutionalism controversy is of philosophical character-no matter how strongly some try to deny this fact…
All in all, this is an outstanding, inspiring and thought-provoking event. And lots of interesting conversations during the coffee-breaks.
Tomorrow the program continues… and tomorrow is my day. From 13:30 I am giving my lecture on the problem of realism and instrumentalism in the context of modern macroeconomics.