Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2023

Course Description

Traditional economics seems to assume that human beings have generally stable preferences, that we are happy to the extent that those preferences are satisfied, and that we always act so as to maximize the satisfaction of our preferences. Behavioral economists argue that this is an inaccurate (or at least incomplete) view of human nature. In this course we will first briefly examine the origins and (some of the) central principles of traditional economics. We will then consider some of the ways that, according to behavioral economists, traditional economics rests on a mistaken view of human nature. Finally, we will draw on ideas from behavioral economics to explore four interesting and important ways in which the free market and human nature interact: (1) the on-going “obesity epidemic”, (2) the impact of American-style free market capitalism on families and children, (3) the rise of “bullshit jobs”, and (4) the paradox of self-interest, according to which caring most about something other than money can result in money coming your way.

Student Outcomes

1) Students will be able to explain the central assumptions of mainstream economics and some of the important ways that behavioral economics challenges those assumptions. (2) Describe the nature of homo economicus and some important ways that it falls short as a complete and accurate conception of human nature. (3) Analyze some significant ways that human nature interacts with free market capitalism in contemporary American society.