Discussion Paper
No. 2019-9 | February 06, 2019
Webb Keane
How everyday ethics becomes a moral economy, and vice versa
(Published in Bio-psycho-social foundations of macroeconomics)


Unrealistic assumptions underlying neo-classical economic theory have been challenged by both behavioral economics and studies of moral economy. But both challengers share certain features with neo-classical theory. Complementing them, recent work in the anthropology of ethics shows that economic behavior is not reducible to either individual psychology or collective norms. This approach is illustrated with studies of transactions taking place at the borders between market rationality and relationships among persons – organ donation and sex work. The paper argues that the inherent value accorded to social relations tends to resist instrumentalization and that the biases that dealing with other people introduce into reasoning are not flaws but part of the core functions of rationality.

JEL Classification:

A10, D01, D63, D91, E71, Z13


Cite As

[Please cite the corresponding journal article] Webb Keane (2019). How everyday ethics becomes a moral economy, and vice versa. Economics Discussion Papers, No 2019-9, Kiel Institute for the World Economy. http://www.economics-ejournal.org/economics/discussionpapers/2019-9

Comments and Questions

Susana Narotzky, University of Barcelona, Spain - Referee report
April 04, 2019 - 13:32
see attached file

Webb Keane - Response to Susana Narotzky
April 23, 2019 - 09:31
see attached file

Anonymous - Comments
April 29, 2019 - 09:47
This is a terrific paper that challenges some of the core assumptions of behavioral economics with insights from how anthropologists and others examine moral economics in a way that will open dialogue with our colleagues in these fields, and provide provocative grounds for dialogue. In its effort to speak to economists and cognitive scientists, I think it succeeds rather well, and reminds me of classic engagements between anthropologists and scholars from other disciplines like those of Herskovits and Geertz. The cases examined put meat on the bones, so to speak, and provide additional grist for the mill. I have no substantive suggestions for revision except maybe for the author to take a look at the following recent paper: Fabian Muniesa (2018), "How to spot the behavioral shibboleth and what to do about it", in Noortje Marres, Michael Guggenheim and Alex Wilkie (Eds.), Inventing the Social, Manchester, Mattering Press, 195-211.