Cents and Sensibility: What economics can learn from the humanities

By Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro

Economists often act as if their methods explain all human behavior. But in Cents and Sensibility, an eminent literary critic and a leading economist make the case that the humanities, especially the study of literature, offer economists ways to make their models more realistic, their predictions more accurate and their policies more effective and just.

Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro trace the connection between Adam Smith’s great classic, The Wealth of Nations, and his less celebrated book on ethics, and contend that a few decades later Jane Austen invented her groundbreaking method of novelistic narration, in order to give life to the empathy that Smith believed essential to humanity.

Morson and Schapiro argue that economists need a richer appreciation of behavior, ethics, culture, and narrative— all of which the great writers teach better than anyone.

Cents and Sensibility demonstrates the benefits of a freewheeling dialogue between economics and the humanities by addressing a wide range of problems drawn from the economics of higher education, the economics of the family and the development of poor nations. It offers new insights about everything from the manipulation of college rankings to why some countries grow faster than others.

Gary Saul Morson is the Lawrence B. Dumas Professor of the Arts and Humanities and professor of Slavic languages and literatures at Northwestern University. His books include Narrative and Freedom, Anna Karenina in Our Time, and The Words of Others: From Quotations to Culture.

Morton Schapiro is the president of Northwestern University and a professor of economics. His books include The Student Aid Game (Princeton). Morson and Schapiro are also the editors of The Fabulous Future? America and the World in 2040.

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