Competing models of socially constructed economic man : differentiating Defoe's Crusoe from the Robinson of neoclassical economics

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Watson, Matthew (2011)

Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe has seldom been read as an explicitly political text. When it has, it appears that the central character was designed to warn the early eighteenth-century reader against political challenges to the existing economic order. Insofar as Defoe’s Crusoe stands for "economic man", he is a reflection of historically-produced assumptions about the need for social conformity, not the embodiment of any genuinely essential economic characteristics. This insight is used to compare Defoe’s conception of economic man with that of the neoclassical Robinson Crusoe economy. On the most important of the ostensibly generic principles espoused by neoclassical theorists, their "Robinson" has no parallels with Defoe’s Crusoe. Despite the shared name, two quite distinct social constructions serve two equally distinct pedagogical purposes. Defoe’s Crusoe extols the virtues of passive middle-class sobriety for effective social organisation; the neoclassical Robinson champions the establishment of markets for the sake of productive efficiency.
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