a committed neoclassical economist. I learned it when I was at a point in my life when rational self-interest (broadly defined) seemed the right way to understand the world.
I don't think that rational self-interest is much of a philosophy to live by. It seems too that Wolfers is having second thoughts. He had a daughter and found that his connection to her can't be explained in terms of calculating, analytical, self-interest:
My feelings toward my daughter Matilda aren’t easily expressed in analytic terms. I struggle to express it, just as I struggle to understand it. I think about my daughter, and I smile. Her laugh is the greatest joy, and it thrills me that she shares it with me. I’m fiercely protective of her, love talking about her, and she’s central not only to my life, but to who I am.
He is describing a relationship based on fidelity: one in which we are no longer closed in on our own selves, but drawn toward a deepening connection with someone else, and called to a service that is "selfless" in one sense (it is not geared toward getting a material advantage for ourselves) but self-fulfilling in another (it deepens our sense of who we are, it is a source of identity).
Wolfers makes a further argument against the idea that fatherhood can be reduced to a philosophy of individual self-interest:
Forget self-interest; I’m not the only stakeholder in this debate. Beyond my better half, there’s Matilda, and the dozens of others she has brought joy to—her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and caregivers. There are the old ladies who smile as she walks down the street, the dads I share a knowing glance with, and all the good that will come from whatever lies ahead for my baby.
And Wolfers has experienced fatherhood at the visceral rather than at the analytical level of human experience:
There’s something new and strange about all this. Today, I feel the powerful force of biology. It’s visceral; it’s real; it’s hormonal, and it’s not in our economic models. I’m helpless in the face of feelings that overwhelm me...I’m surprised by how little of this I’ve consciously chosen. While the economic framework accurately describes how I choose an apple over an orange, it has had surprisingly little to say about what has been the most important choice in my life.
It's a very interesting piece by Wolfers, but I am left wondering why he had to wait until fatherhood to have experiences of this kind. There are many experiences which an economic model would similarly fail to account for. Romantic love. The beauty of nature. Masculine instincts, drives and identity. The relationship between mother and child. Filial respect. Inspired art. A love of one's own country or people. The creative instinct. The sex instinct. Kinship. Ancestry. Religion.
Did Wolfers not experience any of these things deeply enough to unsettle his belief in an economic model of life?