Adam Smith published The Theory of Moral Sentiments in 1759 and established the ethical foundation for The Wealth of Nations (1776) as well as the important role played by custom and fashion in shaping behaviors and outcomes. Kendall P. Cochran believed in Smith’s emphasis on value-driven analysis and seeking solutions to major problems of the day. Cochran believed that economists moved too far in the direction of analysis free of words like ought and should, and he devoted his career to establishing that economics is a moral science.
Cochran’s articles collected herein argue persuasively that economists have a moral obligation to provide policy recommendations that are consistent with a social agenda of fairness and opportunity. While many agree with Adam Smith that individuals are motivated by self-interest, it does not follow that any action or policy that promotes an individual’s self-interest is therefore worthwhile or beneficial from society’s perspective. Cochran makes an eloquent case that economists must identify instances in which government policy can and should be used to protect and promote society’s well-being.