This dissertation investigates the experimental evidence exposing how economists’ behaviour differs from that of non-economists, in that economists display more self-interested conduct. A veritable Moral Trial has stemmed from that evidence, in which it is argued that economists are selfish, thus immoral, and it is recommended that we change the teaching of economics. I therefore disassemble the Moral Trial (Section I) and examine the psychological and logical soundness of both evidence and charges (Section II) and I find them lacking in several respects. I also suggest (Section III) a novel interpretation of the evidence: economists frame situations in a way that makes them believe self-interested conduct is fine and therefore behave self-interestedly on several occasions. This peculiar behaviour is probably responsible for the unflattering economic stereotype, which in turn represents a benchmark for young economics students. These explanations of economics students’ behaviour seem sounder than the one prevailing in the literature – namely self-selection, or the fact that selfish people voluntarily enrol in economics (no persuasive rationale has yet been proposed for self-selection). The explanations advanced here, moreover, reject any deep difference between economists and non-economists, which would make it difficult to square with the observations that, on some occasions, economists behave no more selfishly than non-economists. Finally, since the behavioural gap narrows after graduation, it seems that economics teaching has some consequences on its students, but that these consequences wear off with time. The Moral Trial should therefore not be cause of too much concern about the ethics of economists.

, , , , , , , , ,
McCloskey, Prof. Dr. D.N. (promotor), Vromen, Prof. Dr. J.J. (promotor)
J.J. Vromen (Jack)
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Erasmus School of Philosophy

Lanteri, A. (2008, April 9). The Moral Trial: On Ethics and Economics. Retrieved from