Nietzschean Economics

Nietzsche described the universe as the manifestation of an underlying force which he called will to power. For him, an “insatiable desire to manifest power” is the essence of the universe, and all living things have the same goal, growth. He wrote: “every living thing does everything it can not to preserve itself but to become more.” And to grow and expand, individuals establish for themselves lofty goals that they will (probably) never reach. Aiming high requires overwhelming efforts and the willingness to “risk every danger”. Pain, suffering, and being thwarted in one’s attempts to accomplish a goal are the preconditions for growth and hence an increase in one’s power. [Link to the book] 

I have always been fascinated by this idea that individuals are living in a constant desire of self overcoming and yesterday I had the chance to read an interesting debate between Richard Robb and James Heckman. In three articles (see below) they discuss if will to power is compatible with our rational choice theory.

Robb claims that economic models cannot incorporate the Nietzschean concepts and give some examples of individuals getting “utility” not only from the output of an activity but also from the exploration and the effort exerted in that activity. Agents have a “preference” for struggling. For instance, if people go to the gym, if they suffer below cold metallic machines, and they feel pain in all the parts of their bodies is not (only) because they expect a health benefit in the long run, but because they enjoy the experience. Robb also discusses the unconscious nature of human motives and the capacity of humans to rationalize the consequences of choices after a choice is made.

Heckman replied by showing how “overcoming” might be incorporated into standard utility functions and challenge Robb asking what may be the benefit for economics from investigation into the motives underlying human action.



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