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07/09/2009

John Calvin as behavioral economist

Tomorrow marks the 500th birthday of John Calvin.  If you read John Calvin you will find a great deal of what we now call behavioral economics.

He wrote about non-convexity:

For there is no medium between the two things: the earth must either be worthless in our estimation, or keep us enslaved by an intemperate love of it.

Here is one reason why there is "evil" in the world:

Whatever be the kind of tribulation with which we are afflicted, we should always consider the end of it to be, that we may be trained to despise the present, and thereby stimulated to aspire to the future life. For since God well knows how strongly we are inclined by nature to a slavish love of this world, in order to prevent us from clinging too strongly to it, he employs the fittest reason for calling us back, and shaking off our lethargy.

Adam Smith and David Hume were influenced by Calvin:

If we see a funeral, or walk among graves, as the image of death is then present to the eye, I admit we philosophise admirably on the vanity of life. We do not indeed always do so, for those things often have no effect upon us at all. But, at the best, our philosophy is momentary. It vanishes as soon as we turn our back, and leaves not the vestige of remembrance behind; in short, it passes away, just like the applause of a theatre at some pleasant spectacle. Forgetful not only of death, but also of mortality itself, as if no rumour of it had ever reached us, we indulge in supine security as expecting a terrestrial immortality.

It is odd to call someone so famous an "underrated thinker" but indeed Calvin is.  You'll find the whole text of the Institutes of Christian Religion here; it makes for good browsing.

This chapter is John Calvin imitating Robin Hanson.

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