Homo Oeconomicus and Homo Politicus

Mainstream Economics began considering human behaviour during the 17th century with the work of Thomas Hobbes. Its present assumption about behaviour is mainly that of homo oeconomicus: Human beings act according to their self-interest in a rational manner, hence they are utility maximisers.

This element examines the model of homo oeconomicus, analysing its accomplishments and shortcomings. Criticism from different disciplines such as Ecological Economics maintains that this is a one-sided view of human behaviour. A fundamental deficit of this tenet is that nature, justice and time do not receive the attention they deserve. We develop a further concept of humankind by drawing on political philosophy: homo politicus. Homo politicus is characterised by an interest in justice, common welfare and the sustainability of the natural basis of life. Homo politicus does not replace homo oeconomicus but rather complements him since both concepts contain essential dimensions of human behaviour. This twofold approach allows a better explanation of human behaviour as observed in reality and leads to better predictions.

Our practical example examines the passage of legislation on a waste management system in Germany during the 1980s and 1990s. The example reveals that officials were not acting exclusively as homo oeconomicus, but also as homo politicus. Indeed, these officials pursued long-term goals of justice, sustainability and the protection of the common good. It is generally recognised that the new waste management system was a breakthrough in German environmental policy and has since been adapted by other countries due to its success.

Key Contributers: Peter BernholzFriedrich BreyerOlaf HottingerThomas PetersenJohannes Schiller