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Economics for Humans, Second Edition

Second Edition

At its core, an economy is about providing goods and services for human well-being. But many economists and critics preach that an economy is something far different: a cold and heartless system that operates outside of human control. In this impassioned and perceptive work, Julie A. Nelson asks a compelling question: given that our economic world is something that we as humans create, aren’t ethics and human relationships—dimensions of a full and rich life—intrinsically part of the picture?

Economics for Humans argues against the well-ingrained notion that economics is immune to moral values and distant from human relationships. Here, Nelson locates the impediment to a more considerate economic world in an assumption that is shared by both neoliberals and the political left. Despite their seemingly insurmountable differences, both make use of the metaphor, first proposed by Adam Smith, that the economy is a machine. This pervasive idea, Nelson argues, has blinded us to the qualities that make us work and care for one another—qualities that also make businesses thrive and markets grow. We can wed our interest in money with our justifiable concerns about ethics and social well-being. And we can do so if we recognize that an economy is not a machine, but a living thing in need of attention and careful tending. 

This second edition has been updated and refined throughout, with expanded discussions of many topics and a new chapter that investigates the apparent conflict between economic well-being and ecological sustainability. Further developing the main points of the first edition, Economics for Humans will continue to both invigorate and inspire readers to reshape the way they view the economy, its possibilities, and their place within it. 


“Passionate, to be welcomed in a discipline notably devoid of passion. . . . Can be read for pleasure and enlightenment by economists and non-economists alike.”

Times Literary Supplement

“[Nelson] has no time for the old model of the economy as an impersonal, inexorable, market machine. . . . It's good to read about business and not feel dirty.”

Globe and Mail

“Highly recommended.”


“Nelson’s humanism is an antidote to economics-as-usual.”

Capitalism Nature Socialism

Economics for Humans is not so much a book on theory or yet another critique of neoclassical economics, but rather an attempt to call both sides of market thought to drop the false images they have cultivated about each other, images which are fed by an outdated and misplaced metaphor of the economy as a machine.”

Feminist Economics

Table of Contents

Preface to the Second Edition

1 Tending the Body: The History of Economics
2 Tending the Soul: The Defense of “Noneconomic Values”
3 Bringing Body and Soul Together
4 Love and Money: Motivations in Care Work
5 Money and Love: Motivations on the Job
6 Business and Ethics: Corporations as Organizations
7 Service and Its Limits: Nonprofits, Governments, and Benefit Corporations
8 Economy and Environment: The Question of Global Survival
9 Keeping Body and Soul Together

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