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The Economics of Paradise. On the Onset of Modernity in Antiquity

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posted on 22.10.2013, 09:34 by Sigmund Wagner-Tsukamoto
The Economics of Paradise. On the Onset of Modernity in Antiquity Abstract: The book searches for the origins of modern thinking in one of the best-known stories of our cultural heritage: reconstructing the Paradise story through a new approach to biblical interpretation – institutional and constitutional economics. The book traces in the Paradise story, in economic terms, looming conflict, the rise of the homo economicus, principal-agent conflicts, prisoner’s dilemma predicaments, and, yet, political economic ideals of liberty and freedom. I contest suggestions that the old, conceptual dualism between economics and theology/philosophy could be upheld. In the book, economics, in the tradition of the Scottish Enlightenment, is interpreted as ‘modern ethics’; and I reconstruct such ethics for the Paradise story (drawing on institutional and constitutional economics). As a result, the claimed dualism between ‘ancient’ ethics and modern ‘economics as ethics’ is rejected. The book pioneers a complementary ‘new’ unitary thesis for the Paradise story and for the Old Testament in general: that economics can provide a unified, conceptual, ‘scientific’ structure to the biblical text. On this basis, not only the Paradise story is originally illuminated through economic reconstruction but also the book sets out a new, institutional economic theory of religion itself – that is, Old Testament-based religion.” Chapter Outline Chapter 1 introduces the key theses of the book. The ‘dualism thesis’ is set up – and challenged: The book here refutes the thesis that modern ethics in the tradition of economics (or the ‘Scottish Enlightenment’) were radically different (‘dualistic’) from ancient ethics, as it can be reconstructed from the biblical text. Furthermore, a ‘new’ unitary thesis is advanced for the Paradise story (as for the Old Testament in general), that ‘modern’ economics, i.e. institutional and constitutional economics, can coherently and comprehensively reconstruct and substantiate the Old Testament text, thus giving conceptual, ‘scientific’ unity to the biblical text. The Chapter also introduces the institutional and constitutional economic approach, as is the narrative, textual, non-historiographic methodology of the book outlined. Chapter 2 analyzes the question whether the paradise of Genesis reflected a Land of Cockaigne – i.e. a land of unlimited luxury and unlimited access to and exchange of goods and capital with a carefree, conflict-free, easy life for Adam and Eve. The proposed answer is both highly critical and disapproving, revealing that certain capital was strongly contested and was anything but abundant to Adam and Eve. This argument is advanced on various grounds, such as human capital (i.e. knowledge capital, both moral knowledge and general knowledge); labour capital (Adam and Eve having to invest physical labour into the cultivation of paradise); time capital (free time being curtailed by God’s requirement that Adam and Eve needed to keep paradise cultivated; longevity/eternal life being negated by God’s unwillingness to share fruits from the tree of life with Adam and Eve); and social capital understood in terms of essential democratic goods, like liberty and freedom. The chapter effectively dismisses the widely held, intuitive, seemingly common sense belief that Adam and Eve experienced an easy and carefree life inside paradise; paradise mirroring a Land of Cockaigne in which food abundantly presents itself to the inhabitants. Chapter 3 moves on to analyse the key motivations behind the various actors involved in the paradise interactions: God, Adam & Eve, and the serpent. The affinity of their motivations to the model of self-interested, rational choice (homo economicus) is examined, or what Buchanan called ‘predation’, and Williamson ‘opportunism’. The thesis that self-interested choice was the driving motivation behind the paradise events is specified for Adam and Eve with regard to their theft from the tree of knowledge; for God with respect to the unwillingness to share fruits from the tree of life and from the tree of knowledge with Adam and Eve, as well as God’s expectation that Adam and Eve should work in paradise. For the serpent, a model of self-interest is specified in terms of being a medium that instigates self-interested choice, through Adam and Eve’s theft. The chapter discounts criticism that a characterisation of God’s, Adam and Eve’s, and the serpent’s motives as self-interested (or even as opportunistic and predatory) reveals a dark or negative image of decision-making behaviour. The predominantly heuristic, non-empirical nature of the idea of self-interest or the homo economicus in mainstream economic analysis is stressed. Chapter 4 examines interaction conflicts and economic structures that invited the breakdown of cooperation in the paradise interactions, i.e. Adam and Eve’s theft from the tree of knowledge. Following the approach of institutional and constitutional economics, but more precisely ideas from the principal-agent literature, a defective logic of incentive signals (but not frail human nature) is blamed for causing outcomes of anarchy in the paradise scenario. The economic nature of the decision-making process, which ultimately led to the breakdown of previously cooperative interactions between God and Adam & Eve, is herein reconstructed in economic terms, drawing on principal-agent theory and its ideas of rule structures, incomplete contracting, information problems, the delegation problem, risk-taking, residual loss, etc. Chapter 5 reviews the outcomes of the paradise interactions in terms of specific economic gains and losses incurred for the various actors, building on economic game theory and here especially the prisoner’s dilemma concept. For God, the loss of exclusive access to the tree of knowledge is examined, which partially defined God’s privilege of being divine. For Adam and Eve, losses such as their expulsion from paradise, but also gains, such as their access to a new, special type of knowledge are reviewed. For the serpent, losses such as physical punishments as well as the expulsion from paradise are discussed. The chapter examines the possibility that a situation of mutual loss may have resulted for all the actors involved in the paradise interactions (the ‘war of all’ in Hobbes’s terms, or the ‘prisoner’s dilemma predicament’, as elaborated on in political economics and economic game theory). Economic conditions are delineated that suggest an ambivalent diagnosis of mutual loss as the ultimate outcome of the paradise interactions. Chapter 6 turns on the question: why would the Bible choose a discomforting scenario where loss is potentially endemic for starting a debate on social interactions? The chapter critically questions one-sided negative evaluations of the paradise outcomes, for instance as put forward in the philosophical tradition of John Milton’s classic poem ‘Paradise Lost’, or in the tradition of certain branches of theology, which utilise the idea of the ‘original sin’ in order to negatively judge the paradise events. In this respect, the chapter provides a contrasting constitutional and institutional economic reading of the Old Testament’s initial approach for social analysis, which saw the obedience model collapse. Political economic ideals of asserting freedom and liberty are raised for putting the paradisiacal theft into perspective. The key thesis is that the ‘fall’ of humans in paradise was necessary, instrumentally useful, and even morally valuable in order to subsequently begin a more liberal, fairer and more equal debate on social interactions in the Old Testament. Chapter 7 brings the book to a conclusion, summing up themes as to why concepts of love, benevolence, charity, etc., or a ‘moral precepts approach’ in general, as the conceptually alternative routes to economics for setting up and debating conflict problems found comparatively little consideration in the Old Testament. Etiological motifs of the Paradise story are linked to its conceptual function for staging social conflict in the Old Testament. The dualism thesis is returned to, questioning the conceptual differentiation of modernity from antiquity for the biblical text. Finally, the economic reconstruction of the Paradise story is projected to an institutional economic theory of religion, with a ‘rational religion’ becoming visible. In this way, the rejection of the dualism thesis and the advocacy of the ‘new’ unitary thesis are brought to their natural conclusion. Bibliography & Appendices 1-4



Wagner-Tsukamoto, S. A. The Economics of Paradise: On the Onset of Modernity in Antiquity. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

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