To call the economy ‘human’ is to insist on putting people first, making their thoughts, actions and lives our main concern. Such a focus should also be pragmatic: making economy personally meaningful to students or readers, relating it to ordinary people’s practical purposes. ‘Humanity’ is a moral quality, implying that, if we want to be good, we should treat other persons, people like ourselves, kindly. Since theoretical abstraction is impersonal and leaves no room for morality, a human economy would have to pay attention to the personal realm of experience; but it would be a mistake to leave it there. Humanity is also a collective noun, meaning all the people who have existed or ever will. So the human economy is inclusive, in the sense reinforced by our contemporary witness to the formation of the new human universal that is world society.
Anthropologists and sociologists have long rejected the impersonal model of money and markets offered by mainstream economics. Viviana Zelizer (1994), for example, shows that people refuse to treat the cash in their possession as an undifferentiated thing, choosing rather to ‘earmark’ it — reserving some for food bills, some as holiday savings and so on. Her examples generally come from areas that remain invisible to the economists’ gaze, especially domestic life. People everywhere personalize money, bending it to their own purposes through a variety of social instruments. This was the message too of Money and the morality of exchange (Parry and Bloch 1989). When money and markets are understood exclusively through impersonal models, awareness of this neglected dimension is surely significant. But the economy exists at more inclusive levels than the person, the family or local groups. This is made possible by the impersonality of money and markets, where economists remain largely unchallenged. Money, much as Durkheim (1912) argued for religion, is the principal means for us all to bridge the gap between everyday personal experience and a society whose wider reaches are impersonal.