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Many years ago — don’t ask how many, because I will lie — I had to write a cost-benefit analysis of keeping an 82-year-old person alive on life support. An attempt had been made in an economics class to convince us that the person, let’s call her Siza, “made no contribution to the economy”, and keeping her on life support was, in fact, a waste of money that could have been “better spent”.

I honestly do not recall what I wrote then. As it goes, I am also embarrassed that I used mathematics to solve what was essentially an ethical question about a human life. Please don’t tell anyone. We had all being indoctrinated about the usefulness of applying mathematics, more correctly “formalism”, to solve social problems. I’m pleased to say I moved along from all that many years ago. I now consider formalist modelling, the way it is used by mainstream economists, as ends in themselves and quite detached from ethics or social relations...

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