Competition and the Economy: Anthropological Perspectives



The Homo oeconomicus relates economy to anthropology. Discussed in this chapter are its links to real life, and its different characteristics, all presupposition for much of today’s economic thinking: rationality, self-interest, individualism, and freedom. What about anthropological theories? Does economic competition, based on an instrumentalist-oriented anthropology, reduce the human being to a means and not always also an end in himself or herself? An egotistic-oriented anthropology (individualism and self-interest) is closely linked to competitive economics. An elitist-oriented anthropology, focusing on human ranking and differences as well as a stress on doing and achieving rather than being, is supportive of economic competition. Humanistic anthropological values (individualism, freedom, self-realization) correspond to values in (especially perfect) competitive economics. An opposition to such legitimization focuses on the special way humanistic values are emphasized and selectively used. A competitive economy can be legitimized by a Christian understanding of man as God’s free, self-realizing, and responsible steward acting to benefit himself and others. A Christian view of self-interest, as a vital element of sin, opposes this: self-interest and self-realization take only a limited account of common interests, and freedom is likely to be used as an argument to ignore the interests of others. Economic competition, therefore, must be regulated. The chapter ends with a discussion on how, and to what extent, human dignity (as understood within a humanistic and Christian tradition) is protected or is not present in a competitive economy. Consideration is given to whether such dignity represents a critical and normative potential vis-à-vis an economy.


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and SocietyOsloNorway

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