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Regular version of the site

From Economics to ‘Humanomics’

On the 2nd December 2011 HSE students met with a young Czech economist Tomáš Sedlacek, author of the bestselling ‘Economics of good and evil’, Oxford University Press, 2011.

Tomas Sedlacek teaches at the Charles University of Prague and is a member of the National Economic Council of the Czech government and the head macroeconomist at the Czechoslovak Trade Bank. His debut book "Economics of Good and Evil" was published in Prague in May 2009 and within weeks became the bestselling nonfiction work of the past 10 years in Czech Republic.

This year, Oxford University Press published the book in English and to great acclaim from both general readers and leading members of the international academic community.

Tomas Sedlacek began his talk by warning the students that both the book and his presentation were deliberately provocative. The book’s subtitle is "The quest for economic meaning in economics from Gilgamesh to Wall Street." Reading, rereading and reinterpreting the texts of the Old Testament and delving even further back into ancient mythology, studying books of theologians and philosophers, Tomas Sedlacek came to the conclusion that the economics is ultimately about good and evil.

"Economics is presented as a science free of moral values which builds its argument on the basis of mathematical laws - said the author - but in fact it is a product of our civilization, and thus a cultural phenomenon, which began with philosophy. Not surprisingly, Adam Smith, the famous 19th century economist, wrote the book "The Wealth of Nations", at almost the same time as he was completing "The theory of Moral Sentiments." Economics is impossible without human history, mythology, religion and ethics. The most sophisticated mathematical models - continued Tomas Sedlacek - merely show our desire to understand the world rationally. Economics describes the world, sets standards and identifies the ideal conditions for human development. So economics is a complex system of beliefs that we (for various reasons) adhere to."

Tomas Sedlacek, who recently turned 34 years old, has worked in various fields including science, public policy and art. Between 2001 and 2003 he was Economic Advisor to the Czech President Vaclav Havel, which led to Havel writing the preface to Sedlacek’s book and emphasized that in fact the author is looking for answers to meta-economic questions: What is the meaning of economics? Do our ethical standards correspond to technical ones? What are our real motivations?

"The more we have, the more we want - the scientist said. - Why? Perhaps we think, and this sounds intuitive, that the more we have, the less we need. We think that active consumption leads to the satisfaction of our needs. But, in fact, everything is exactly the opposite: the more we have, the more we need. Every sated desire leads to another desire, because consumption is a "drug".

Many reviewers agree that Sedlacek opens up the history and nature of economics to radical revision and sharp criticism. In fact he calls for a revision of methods for calculating economic values as well as for a transition from economics to "humanomics" in our world of global scarcity. Sedlacek's pioneering work encourages readers to think about economics (and not only about economics!) deeply, independently and without prejudice, avoiding cliches and preconceptions. There is a hope among economists that this book will stimulate promising new research.

Incidentally, the book inspired some Czech theater leaders to create a popular theatrical show, which then toured for a year throughout the country to widespread acclaim

Valentina Gruzintseva, HSE News Service

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