Journal of Cultural Economy Article Published in Fully Open Access Format
Title: 'Rousseau's Crusoe Myth: The Unlikely Provenance of the Neoclassical Homo Economicus', Journal of Cultural Economy, 10 (1), 2017, 81-96. The article is available from the Journal of Cultural Economy website in fully open access format.
Abstract: The neoclassical homo economicus has escaped the narrow confines of economic theory and is today embodied countless times over in the everyday behaviour that so much of the modern economy is set up precisely to serve. Not all of the authors of leading books on economic principles have named the neoclassical homo economicus, but when they have done so it is overwhelmingly in the same way. They have given him the human form of a Robinson Crusoe figure, despite the fact that his behavioural motivations and his practical conduct owe next-to-nothing to Daniel Defoe's original characterisation. I suggest that the route to today's cultural familiarity with the neoclassical homo economicus instead passes through the entirely unwitting hands of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He substituted Defoe's account of the castaway's continuing deference to prevailing social norms with his own idealised vision of how the individual might use solitude to escape the corrupting influences of modern society. It is altogether another desocialised individual also bearing the Crusoe name who has latterly shaped many of the economics textbooks' renderings of the neoclassical homo economicus. However, we can get to him only by first understanding the essential features of Rousseau's Crusoe myth.