Models of man: Neoclassical, behavioural, and evolutionary

For most observers of economics from both inside and outside the science, the term ‘economics’ is synonymous with neoclassical economics. It is the methodology of neoclassical economics that defines the discipline of economics. ‘Mainstream economics’ is neoclassical economics and anyone entering the discipline today who wishes to obtain an appointment at one of the leading universities of the world is well advised to master its techniques. The fact that virtually every winner of a Nobel prize from Paul Samuelson up to his student Joseph Stiglitz has been a practitioner of neoclassical economics is ample proof of the methodology’s triumph. Despite the dominance of this methodology, however, neoclassical economics has been subject to a steady stream of criticisms and proposals for alternative methodological approaches throughout its life. This article focuses on two relatively recent challenges to the neoclassical orthodoxy that seem to have taken hold of a non-negligible minority of the profession, some of whom can be found at leading universities. These two challenges come from behavioural economics and evolutionary economics. The article describes the strengths and weaknesses of both of these methodological approaches and contrasts them with that of neoclassical economics. It concludes that all three methodologies have something positive to contribute to the study of human behaviour. Key Words: neoclassical economics • behavioural economics • evolutionary economics.
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DOI 10.1177/1470594X04039982
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