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The Economics of Sin

Rational Choice or No Choice at All? Samuel Cameron, formerly Professor of Economics, University of Bradford, UK
The Economics of Sin examines the definition and evolution of sin from the perspective of rational choice economics, yet is conscious of the limitations of such an approach. The author argues that because engaging in activities deemed to be sinful is an act of choice, it can therefore be subject to the logic of choice in the economic model.
Extent: 256 pp
Hardback Price: $128.00 Web: $115.20
Publication Date: 2003
ISBN: 978 1 84064 867 6
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  • Economics and Finance
  • Economic Psychology
  • Social Policy and Sociology
  • Sociology and Sociological Theory
The Economics of Sin examines the definition and evolution of sin from the perspective of rational choice economics, yet is conscious of the limitations of such an approach. The author argues that because engaging in activities deemed to be sinful is an act of choice, it can therefore be subject to the logic of choice in the economic model.

The book considers the formation of religions, including the new age revival of ‘wicca’, as regulators of the quasi-market in sins, and goes on to appraise the role of specific sins such as lying, envy, jealousy, greed, lust, sloth, and waste in individual markets and in macroeconomic activity. Empirical evidence on issues such as cannibalism, capital punishment, addiction, adultery and prostitution is also explored. Samuel Cameron concludes that a large percentage of economic activity is intimately connected with forms of sin which are in some circumstances highly beneficial to the functioning of markets, particularly in the presence of market failure.

This innovative, interdisciplinary study of the institution of sin will be of enormous interest to a wide-ranging readership, including researchers and teachers of economics, sociology and theology. It will also be of importance for anthropologists and philosophers.
‘This is a fascinating book. Readers will be surprised to discover the lengths to which the Von Neumann-Morgenstern, Becker, Lancaster and Knight models of rational choice can be applied to all forms of sinful behaviour. . . This volume is an interesting read and will be of interest to lecturers and students alike.’
– Marcus Ling, Economic Issues

‘The Economics of Sin is a timely work, a bold and engaging – though controversial – journey into territory where there is much to be done but most modern economists still fear to tread. . . It makes a useful contribution to the discipline, and should force any reader to grapple with some fairly deep questions that, until recently, lay nearly dormant in the economics literature.’
– Joseph G. Eisenhauer, Review of Social Economy

‘It is a remarkable book and presages what might have been called “the economics of the Bible”. The author very successfully invokes the arguments of economics and blends them with theology.’
– John Brewer, Network

‘The ultimate test of a book is whether it should be granted shelf space in one’s library. The Economics of Sin should be considered a work produced more at the beginning of a field of thought than in the middle or at the end. There is much unexplored territory. Cameron is a Marco Polo who has traveled afar and now recounts the amazing things he has seen on his journey. Before we begin our own journey, we want to know what he knows, both to warn us away from preventable mistakes or shortcomings, as well as to help us formulated our own conjectures and compare them to what others have done. The Economics of Sin performs a great service that reflects the amount of time and care that went into preparing it. It easily passes the library shelf space test.’
– Earl L. Grinols, Faith and Economics

‘Replete with bounteous references and superb reviews of the literature at every turn, this is a splendid book for economists, other social scientists, and academic scholars. Highly recommended.’
– A.R. Sanderson, Choice

‘An original, innovative, ground-breaking, interdisciplinary study, The Economics of Sin is scholarly and very highly recommended reading for students of economics, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and religion.’
– Midwest Book Review

‘This provocative book uses economic rational choice theory to explain a range of activities leading to social disapproval including the seven deadly sins. These activities generate large amounts of revenue, but impose negative externalities in an environment in which religion is treated as a form of collective regulation. Some sins may have positive effects on employment and growth. The author suggests, for example, that it is an open question whether honesty can be reconciled with market based economic systems. The book may be read to advantage not only by economists but also by anthropologists, sociologists, students of religion and policymakers amongst others.’
– Peter J. Sloane, University of Aberdeen, UK
Contents: Part I: 1. Introduction 2. Tools of the Trade: Rational Choice 3. Religion Part II: 4. Greed, Lust, Sloth and Waste 5. Envy and Jealousy 6. Lies and Deceit Part III: 7. Matters of Life and Death 8. Addiction 9. Adultery 10. Prostitution 11. Conclusion Bibliography Index