The Devil Is in the Details: Implications of Samuel Bowles’s The Moral Economy for Economics and Policy Research
by Rachel Kranton
All economists should buy and read The Moral Economy by Samuel Bowles. The book challenges basic premises of economic theory and questions policies based on monetary incentives. Incentives not only crowd out intrinsic motivations, they erode the ethical and moral codes necessary for the workings of markets. Bowles boldly suggests that successful policies must combine incentives and moral messages, exploiting complementarities between the two. This essay argues that to achieve this objective, economists must study the local institutions and social context and engage untraditional data to uncover the interplay of incentives and identity.