This is a good question to ask, if only because one can go through many years of economic, financial, and business education, and not hear anyone actually ask this question. You will hear professors and colleagues go on about the subject of economics, which is usually defined as the movement of goods, and the accumulation of wealth, but usually, you will find that these people are quite keen to avoid any value judgments. The reason for this, of course, is that they tend to subscribe to some version of the neoliberal, laissez faire, and/or Ron Paulian notion that the goal of economics is to enrich me. Or enrich the big people, or, enrich a few, or enrich the energetic, lucky, entrepreneurial, and/or crafty. When pressed, most of them will then justify this science of acquisition with the ‘trickle down’ notion; which unfortunately for those of us who like to be idealistic, does have enough of a historical basis, more than any criticism can really cut down, so that these people can go on smugly creating a science of accumulation for the few.
The real goal of economics, of course, is the enrichment of everyone. Just like the ultimate goal of medicine is the ultimate immortality of everyone; the ultimate goal of psychology is the creation of perfect sanity for everyone, and the ultimate goal of political science is the creation of a state which creates the conditions for the maximum enjoyment of life, for everyone. Obviously, some of the social sciences, such as political science, are a bit problematic, since people will have conflicting goals and needs, and wants, but most of the sciences, and humanities, the subjects taught in a university, have goals which are definable as maximizing human happiness.
Let’s put the goal of economics in historical context. In a hunter-gatherer society, there was little property to be had. Economists have made the mistake, following political scientists, of thinking that ‘primitive’ societies did not have any unequal distribution of wealth. Anthropologists have in the past 30 years or so proven quite strongly that almost every human society is hierarchical, and there are pecking orders, just as in almost all bird and mammal groups. So, there was always an Alpha male, and Alpha female, etc, and even if there wasn’t much property, they got the best stuff: they got the most food, which kept them strong, sleek, good-looking, and Alpha, and they of course got the most and best mates in the case of men, or the most select mates, in the case of females. And what little property they had, the chief got the best. So, the problem with Rousseau’s theory, etc., is that it grossly misread the nature of primitive human society, as it evolved over tens of thousands of years, and millions before homo sapiens. (more…)