» Humanomics

Humanomics Students looking at screen on laptopHumanomics serves as an interdisciplinary program to teach and research a humanistic science of economics. Economics and the humanities are often perceived as fundamentally disconnected. Economics asks why Homo sapiens is the most prosperous species in the history of the planet, but the tools of the discipline are inadequate to account for the wide range of human motives. In economics the human predicates of feeling, wanting, thinking, and knowing have been boiled down to the single motivation of naked “self-interest.” What does prosperity have to do with justice, courage, faith, hope, and love? The answer in economics is, “That’s for the humanities to ponder.”

The humanities do ponder such virtues, and prudence, too. The humanities give voice to feeling and artistic shape to experience. Exploring human stories and ideas helps us make meaning of our lives. Meaning is as much a part of the scientific evidence in economics as is behavior, and, of course, meaning influences behavior itself. Through the Humanities, through literature and film, philosophy and history, we can come to better understand ourselves as human beings, broadening our perspectives of the world as we move beyond the boundaries of our own lives and culture, asking “What does it mean to be human?” And quite fundamentally “being human” includes Homo sapiens’ unique propensity to specialize, to exchange, to create markets, the latter of which is often viewed skeptically from the humanities. Humanomics grew out of a desire to explore economics through the lens of the humanities and humanity through the lens of economics.



  • Minor in Humanomics
  • Topics in Humanomics
  • Presidential Seminar
  • Humanomics FFC Courses
  • The minor is listed in the catalog under both the Argyros School of Business and Economics and in the interdisciplinary minors in the Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

    Requirements: The minor requires a total of 21 credits, 12 of which must be upper division

    Catalog Description:

    The Humanomics minor is broadly organized by three questions: What makes a rich nation rich? What makes a good person good? And what do these questions have to do with one another? The Socratic dialogue in the required core courses provides students with an opportunity to personalize their inquiry of these three questions by analyzing and synthesizing texts from the concurrent reading of three disciplines and by producing original interdisciplinary texts. Electives enable students to study a variety of supporting topics to gain expertise in the synthesis of economics and the humanities. Students pursuing majors in Economics, English, or Philosophy and minoring in Humanomics must complete 12 credits from the list of elective courses which are outside of their major or major’s primary discipline, including Individual Studies (299/499) and Research/Creative Activity courses (291/491). Students pursuing majors in Business Administration must complete 12 credits from the list of elective courses excluding Econ 200, Econ 201, and Econ 374. Students pursuing majors in Accounting must complete 12 credits from the list of elective courses excluding Econ 200 and Econ 201.

    Core Courses Three offerings of ECON/ENG/PHIL 357 Topics in Humanomics (9 credits)

    Elective Courses (12 credits from the list below. 3 credits must be upper division.)

    ECON 200 Principles of Microeconomics
    ECON 201 Principles of Macroeconomics
    ECON 374 European Economic History
    ENG 270 Foundations of Rhetorical Studies
    ENG 372 Language and Ideology
    ENG 446 Topics in Rhetoric
    PHIL 104 Introduction to Ethics
    PHIL 318 Political and Legal Philosophy
    PHIL 327 Global Justice

    Up to six units total of approved Individual Study or Student‐Faculty Research/Creative
    Activity; ECON/ENG/PHIL 299/499 and ECON/ENG/PHIL 291/491.

    For questions, students should contact the Associate Dean, Academic Programs, Argyros
    School of Business and Economics.

    Total Credits: 21

  • Topics in Humanomics:

    Using Socratic dialogue this course engages students in dialogically exploring economics, philosophy, and literature texts to examine two questions at the core of Humanomics: What makes a rich nation rich? What makes a good person good? This course encourages in-depth study of the co-constitutive social texts regarding the exponential economic growth of the last two-hundred years, asking students to consider how knowledge, ethics, and aesthetics shape and reshape the basic principles of exchange and the human condition.  Examples of possible texts include but are not limited to: Paradise Lost, Goethe's Faust, Great Expectations, Frankenstein, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Polanyi's Personal Knowledge, The Fatal Conceit, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World.

    Current, Upcoming, and Past Courses:

    SPRING 2020
    ECON/ENG/PHIL 357: "Trust in Troubling Times"

    Brennan McDavid and Jan Osborn

    Course Syllabus

    Arguably, trust may be the beating heart not only of healthy relationships but of flourishing
    societies and even thriving economies. Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s “You must trust
    and believe in people, or life becomes impossible,” and Nobel-laureate economist Ken Arrow’s
    “virtually every commercial transaction has within it an element of trust” capture the
    importance of trust in human lives. But what is trust? This class will explore the notion of trust
    through philosophical, economic, and literary lenses. Through careful conceptual analysis,
    students in this course will develop a sense of the complexity of trust together with an ability to
    engage critically with depictions of trust in literature and film and uses of the concept in social

    INTERTERM 2020
    ECON/ENG/PHIL 357: "The Ethics and Economics of Women's Freedom"

    Katharine Gillespie Moses and Bas van der Vossen

    Course Syllabus

    Is liberty universal? Are women less able to be and feel free than men? Are they subject to physical, social, philosophical, religious, political and/or economic constraints that disable them from achieving the same sorts of liberty as men do? Or are they able to exercise freedom in the same way as men do or even in ways that men cannot? And what are the consequences of women enjoying equal rights and freedom? In this course, we will explore these fundamental and still highly important questions about gender equality by reading political theory by John Locke and work on the economics of the family by Gary Becker’s alongside important feminist texts by Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf and other Englishwomen who wrote in earlier centuries.

    FALL 2019
    ECON/ENG/PHIL 357: "Cause, Effect, and Freedom"

    Erik Kimbrough and John Thrasher IV

    Course Syllabus

    Why are some people rich and others poor? Why are some tall and some short? Why do some companies succeed and others fail? Why are some societies growing while others are shrinking? Answers to these questions all involve claims about causation. We assume the world around us is largely governed by regular relations between cause and effect. Science is the attempt to tease out these relationships and to make valid inferences from cause to effect and vice versa. 

    This course will explore various visions of determinism and our reactions to those visions. Do we live in a deterministic world? What does determinism mean for our values and a notion of the good life? How do we know what causes what? We will explore these questions by looking at recent scientific arguments in favor of determinism, while at the same time reading classics of literature and philosophy that wrestle with the ethical and practical implications of understanding our world as a world of causes and effects

    SPRING 2019
    ECON/ENG/PHIL 357: "Noble Savages and Free Citizens: The Promise and Peril of Civil Society"

    Michael Valdez Moses and Keith Hankins

    Course Syllabus

    “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. He who believes himself the master of others does not escape being more of a slave than they.” The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of the 18th century’s fiercest critics of civil society. He explored in great depth the ways in which living in community with others makes us less free, while romanticizing an (imaginary) past in which we lived lives of solitude. At the same time, he was one of history’s greatest champions of democracy. This course uses Rousseau’s work as a lens through which to assess our lives. Has living in community with others really made us less free as Rousseau contends? Has the rise of democracy made things better? How can economics help us answer these questions? Along the way we’ll look at how these themes have been explored in two classic novels. The first, Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard, documents the fortunes of an aristocratic family from Sicily during Italy’s fitful transition to democracy. The second, Mario Vargas Llosa's The Storyteller, probes the place of nomadic native cultures in the modern world by exploring how the same stories and myths get retold across time and space.

    Interterm 2019
    ECON/ENG/PHIL 357: "Milton’s Paradise Lost and the Ethics and
    Economics of Wealth Creation"

    Katharine Gillespie Moses and Bart Wilson

    Course Syllabus

    To be human is not to be an angel, but to know good and evil. To be human is to have the liberty to decide. To be human is to be limited, to face trade-offs. This course dialogically explores John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, F.A. Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty, and Thomas Sowell’s Knowledge and Decisions to shape one of the most fundamental questions of economics outside the Garden of Eden—not what must be decided but who shall decide. How do we apply the knowledge of good and evil in a society of strangers? What does the human constitution—"sufficient to [stand], though to free fall"—mean for responsibility and liberty in the creation of wealth? "The world [is] all before [us], where to choose."

    Fall 2018
    ECON/ENG/PHIL 357: "Working with Marx"

    Erik Kimbrough and Bas van der Vossen

    Course Syllabus

    Karl Marx’s theories have been a source of intellectual and political motivation, spawning revolutions both figuratively (in academic thought) and literally (in Russia, China, and elsewhere). In this course we will dive deep into Marx’s thoughts on the nature of work, capitalist society, and the social and ethical problems of that surround it. The goal of this course is to assess how these ideas have resonated since his time and whether they remain relevant today. We will use a variety of sources and media that illustrate the continued appeal of these ideas, including Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, and Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. Central questions for the course include: What is exploitation? And is it possible in a free market? Is exploitation avoidable? What is alienation? Do we experience alienation today? What is the value of work? And what should a worker expect to get out of a job? Will we ever live in a world without work? Would we want to?

    Spring 2018
    ECON/ENG 357: "Consumerism and its Discontents"

    Erik Kimbrough and Jan Osborn

    Course Syllabus

    The consumer society that has blossomed since the Industrial Revolution is the wealthiest, healthiest and freest society ever known.  Yet with this wealth and the freedom to choose we see people opting to expend incredible resources on "conspicuous consumption", as they attempt to keep up with the Joneses (and Kardashians).  This course will explore the logic of consumption and ask whether it is possible to mount an ethical defense of consumption and the life of the "leisure class".  What do people want?  What do they need?  Where do those wants and needs come from?  And what should they want?  Who gets to decide?

    Interterm 2018
    ECON/PHIL 357: "Social (In)Justice"

    Bas van der Vossen and Bart Wilson

    Course Syllabus

    This course attempts to clarify our understanding of the pervasive concept of social justice in the modern world. F.A. Hayek contends that the concept, despite well‐meaning intentions, is meaningless, incoherent, and harmful to the prosperity of a free society. David Miller argues that when considered contextually the principles of desert, need, and equality can be used to delineate a theory of social justice as a viable political ideal. How do the dystopian aesthetics of the “Good E” and “Bad E” in L.P. Hartley’s novel shape and reshape Hayek’s and Miller’s ideas on economics and the human condition?

  • Inspired by Oxford University’s High Table, the Humanomics community regularly breaks bread together as part of the Presidential Seminar, creating and enhancing bonds between students across all four years, between professors, and between professors and students.

    Presidential Seminar Texts

    • Fall 2019: The Picture of Dorian Gray (Wilde), Humanomics: Moral Sentiments and the Wealth of Nations for the Twenty-First Century (V. Smith and Wilson), and The Theory of Moral Sentiments (A. Smith)
    • Spring 2019: The Sorrows of Young Werther (Goethe), Autobiography (J.S. Mill), and Forever (Yang and Hubbard, creators)
    • Fall 2018: Ulysses (James Joyce), The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce (Deirdre McCloskey)
    • Spring 2018: The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream (Cowen), The Locals (Dee)
    • Fall 2017: Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions Enriched the World (McCloskey), Candide (Voltaire), and La Bohème
    • Spring 2017: Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions Enriched the World (McCloskey) and Robinson Crusoe (Defoe)
    • Fall 2016: The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality (Deaton) and Great Expectations (Dickens).
    • Spring 2016: Markets without Limits (Brennan and Jaworski) and Frankenstein (Shelley)
    • Fall 2015: The End of Abundance: Economic Solutions to Water Scarcity (Zetland) and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (Hamid)
    • Spring 2015: The Logic of Liberty (Polanyi), The Study of Man (Polanyi), The Trial (Kafka), and The Complete Stories (Kafka)
    • Fall 2014: The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Smith) and The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky)
    • Spring 2014: Individualism and Economic Order (Hayek), Creative Destruction: How Globalization is Changing the World’s Culture (Cowen), and Netherlands (O’Neill)
    • Fall 2013: Personal Knowledge (Polanyi) and Gulliver’s Travels (Swift)
    • Spring 2013: The Ethics of Competition (Knight) and Faust (Goethe)
    • Fall 2012: The Constitution of Liberty (Hayek) and Germinal (Zola)
    • Spring 2012: The Constitution of Liberty (Hayek) and The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
    • Fall 2011: Bourgeois Dignity (McCloskey) and Pride and Prejudice (Austin)
  • Fall 2019 First-year Foundation Courses:

    FFC 100: "Intersections of Human Identity"

    David Rojo Arjona & Jan Osborn

    Course Syllabus

    Co-taught by professors from Economics and English, this course combines philosophical, literary, and economic texts and tools to explore phenomena at the heart of today’s world, including immigration, segregation, identity politics, and conflict. Students in this course will question how identities and a mass culture intersect in the 21st century, will ask if liberal democracies and exchange economies can help humans achieve just, noble lives, respecting their identities.

    FFC 100: "Health, Wealth, and Inequality"

    Andrea Matranga & Keith Hankins

    Course Syllabus

    What makes a rich nation rich? What makes a good person good? And what do these questions have to do with one another? How can the story of progress in health and wealth be one of both growth and inequality? While exploring these and other questions about markets and ethics, students will challenge the perceived tensions between economics and the humanities.  Co-taught by professors from the Smith Institute for Political Economy and Philosophy, this course combines social scientific analysis of health, wealth, and inequality with philosophical inquiry into the problems associated with and justifications for inequality, and explores how these issues have been portrayed in novels and film.

    FFC 100: "Humanomics: Radical Reformers"

    Bas van der Vossen & Erik Kimbrough

    Course Syllabus

    Critics of contemporary (and historical) society often propose reforms intended to make the world a better place. This course will explore radical reformers in fiction and in reality, trying to understand the social problems reforms are intended to address, the goals of the reformers, and the view of human motivation implied by the reformers’ proposals.

    FFC 100: "Humanomics: Exchange and the Human Condition"

    Katharine Gillespie & Bart Wilson

    Course Syllabus

    What makes a rich nation rich? What makes a good person good? And what do these questions have to do with one another? While exploring these and other questions about markets and ethics, students will challenge the perception of economics as distinct from the humanities.  This course combines an economic inquiry into the human propensity to exchange with the cultural interpretation of the human condition in the HBO television show Deadwood. The instructional methods include Socratic roundtable discussions of the texts, laboratory experiments, journaling, focused free writes, creative writing, and expository papers.

    FFC100: "Utopia/Dystopia"

    Michael Moses & John Thrasher IV

    Course Syllabus

    The 20th century was an era of bold utopian experimentation. Numerous extraordinary attempts were made to realize in practice radical and competing conceptions of freedom and equality, progress and order, personal happiness and social harmony. Even as many of these utopias became nightmares for those who lived under them, thinkers and artists remained fascinated with the role that technology could play in making possible different ways of living and forms of social control that went beyond what was deemed possible at the time. Focusing on major works of literature, film, and philosophic prose, we will look at some of the most prominent and thought-provoking visions of utopia/dystopia in the 20th and 21st centuries and reflect on what these (mostly) fictional portrayals of society can teach us about the limits (if any) of political thinking in reshaping our conceptions of morality, human nature, and social life. In this course, we will explore the tensions between individual freedom and communal solidarity, between economic prosperity and social equality, between natural limits and human aspirations for an ideal social order, between technological progress and human flourishing. 

    Fall 2018 First-year Foundation Courses:

    FFC 100: "Humanomics: Exchange and the Human Condition"

    Michael Moses

    What makes a rich nation rich? What makes a good person good? And what do these questions have to do with one another? While exploring these and other questions about markets and ethics, students will challenge the perception of economics as distinct from the humanities. This course combines an economic inquiry into the human propensity to exchange with the cultural interpretation of the human condition in the HBO television show Deadwood. The instructional methods include Socratic roundtable discussions of the texts, laboratory experiments, journaling, focused free writes, and five expository papers.

    FFC 100: "Humanomics: The Ism Schism"

    Kyle Hampton and Jan Osborn

    Course Syllabus

    Human societies are complex, encompassing a plurality of ideas and ideals, of cultures and languages, of beliefs and points of view. This course explores moral monism in a world of pluralities, questioning political, religious, and ideological polarization, asking "Why are good people divided by politics, by religion, by ideological extremism; why is there an "ism schism"? this course asks students to think critically about challenges facing the global community.

    FFC 100: "Tyranny and Resistance from the Ancients to 1989"

    Katharine Gillespie Moses

    Course Syllabus

    What is power; how is it gained; how is it exercised over others; how is it lost? Is it something that rulers possess and their subjects lack? Or is it something that is created and recreated within an “economy of power relations” comprised of both acts of dominance and strategic acts of opposition? Do we need structures of power to live peacefully? If so, when might those structures become problematically violent in and of themselves and hence subject to questioning? What comprises a legitimate versus an illegitimate form of resistance? While exploring these and other questions through a broad survey of works spanning from ancient Greece to the pivotal year of 1989, this course combines a social, cultural, economic, and political inquiry into tyranny and resistance with a consideration of how various “economies of power” give rise to various forms of both dominance and opposition.

    FFC 100: "The Tragedy in Morality: Greek Drama and the Birth of Law and Ethics"

    Brennan McDavid and John Thrasher

    Course Syllabus

    The Greek tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, as well as the comedies of Aristophanes explore the moral complexity of human life. The Orestes series of plays by Aeschylus (the Oresteia) shows how the search for justice, without the structure of law leads to violence and disorder. Oedipus Rex is the exemplar of how bad luck can make a moral mess—Oedipus (spoiler alert) unluckily and unwittingly ends up married to his own mother. Iphigenia at Aulis considers the conflicts that arise under the threat of war when moral emotions, superstitions, and old promises all clash in a perfect storm. And Antigone—perhaps the most famous of these plays in our contemporary times—examines the destruction that can result from a clash between human law and natural morality. In this class, we will explore several of the themes that the Greek tragedians wanted us to consider, and we will do so through engagement with the dramas themselves together with complementary philosophical writing on these same topics. The aim is to understand how the Greeks thought about complex moral issues and to reflect on what lessons we can take from their presentation of those problems in the tragedies.