According to Rob Wijnberg, the call to be objective is one of the most persistent misunderstandings in journalism. Objectivity doesn’t exist. “It’s literally impossible to describe the world without having some idea of good and evil, relevant and trivial, true and untrue.”
And according to Czech economist Tomáš Sedláček, the same is true of economics. The assertion of many economists that their use of mathematical formulas and physical models provides an objective representation of reality is false. Behind all the graphs and numbers and models and formulas lurks – just as in journalism – a worldview. An awareness of evil. A feeling. An instinct.
“Behind all the graphs and numbers and models and formulas, lurks a worldview”
Is that bad? No, not according to Sedláček. On the contrary, economics must necessarily ground itself in ethics; moral beliefs have underpinned the field through all its centuries of existence. He expands on this claim in his groundbreaking book Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street. This provocative 2011 bestseller heralded his international arrival as one of the most exciting economic thinkers of our time.
Tomáš Sedláček witnessed the fall of communism at the age of thirteen. At twenty-four he became an advisor to Václav Havel, the writer who became the Czech Republic’s first president. He is a member of the National Economic Council in Prague and works as a macroeconomist for the country’s largest bank.
I spoke with Tomáš at the Winternachten literature festival in The Hague, where he hosted a book club on the Bible. It’s the fertile mix of choice for this lively intellectual: the Bible, combined with jokes, economics, The Matrix, and The Lord of the Rings.
—Translated from Dutch by Grayson Morris and Erica Moore
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