FAITH & ECONOMICS
NUMBER 76, Fall 2020
Human Flourishing and the Subjective Dimension of Work
Geoffrey C. Friesen
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
This paper is part of a symposium organized in cooperation with the AEI Initiative on Faith and Public Life titled: “In the Contemporary United States What Would a Truly Humane Economy Look Like?“
Abstract: Because economic models affect economic decisions, and these decisions affect our social reality, the models have spillover effects and their assumptions can actually manifest in reality. The Biblical account of the human person in the book of Genesis reveals that human work takes on both exterior (objective) and interior (subjective) meaning. This article highlights how models in economics and finance have assumed away the subjective dimension of work, and explores the consequences of this self-limiting assumption. Existing models limit our understanding of human work to the objective dimension characterized by trade-off logic, where actions benefiting a principal come at the expense of the agent (or other stakeholder). Compensation must be paid to the agent to induce the effort/action that leads to the loss in utility. The subjective dimension of human work, grounded both in science and scripture, introduces a fundamentally new type of economic logic, which stands alongside the “logic of costly effort.” Under this new type of “logic of interior meaning and engagement,” actions that benefit the agent can in fact also benefit the
principal. Dropping the assumption that such situations cannot exist is an important preliminary step towards a more humane economy.