ASPEN, Colo.—Social capital. Comparative advantage. Vertical integration. Synergies. Efficiences. ROI.
If you are cringing from all that, I apologize; I did not mean to offend you with my careless leveraging of those terms. Then again, many other people should be apologizing, too: The stultifying language of economic theory is becoming more and more prevalent outside the worlds of business and policy. We use terms like "human resources" to discuss ... our coworkers. We run cost-benefit analyses when deciding between the pizza and the pasta. We use language that suggests a world that can be scrutinized and organized according to neat inputs and outputs—according, in other words, to systems.
Leon Wieseltier does not want us to be talking in this way. He does not want us to be understanding the world in this way. As the cultural critic said during a discussion at the Aspen Ideas Festival, put on by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, this afternoon: "American language, in the discussion of non-economic realms, has been infiltrated by economic metaphors and economic terms."
And that means that those metaphors and terms are infiltrating other fields. "There's economics and economicism," Wieseltier said. Economics is ... well, you know what economics is. Economicism, on the other hand, is allowing the language and the frameworks of economics to permeate other fields. The "ism" version of "economics" is, Wieseltier said, "raising economics as a source of wisdom in realms that have nothing to do with economics."