Journal of Cultural Economics

, Volume 43, Issue 4, pp 527–544 | Cite as

Economics and novels: good, evil and becoming better people

  • Dwight R. Lee
  • Cecil BohanonEmail author
Original Article


This paper considers differences in how economists and novelists view the importance of good and evil in determining social outcomes. As opposed to novelists, economists see the possibility of achieving desirable outcomes through the pursuit of self-interest in markets with good and evil having little influence on that achievement. However, the paper also considers problems with relying on self-interest alone to generate publicly desirable outcomes through markets and points out limits to self-interest in markets. It is argued that novels and literature are a time-tested way of promoting the moral education necessary for well-functioning markets. Attention is turned to the similarities between Adam Smith’s theory of moral sentiments and the novels of Jane Austen on the means by which people are able to transcend narrow self-interest in ways that improve both economic and social outcomes.


Economics and literature Economics and novels Economics and morality Limits of self-interest Price signals Economics and information Coordination problems Public choice Cultural economics Adam Smith Jane Austen 



No external funding was received by the authors for this work.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for the Study of Political Economy, Department of Economics, Miller College of BusinessBall State UniversityMuncieUSA
  2. 2.Department of Economics, Miller College of BusinessBall State UniversityMuncieUSA

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