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six questions for economists on rationality

Teppo’s recent post on rationality inspired a list of questions:

  1. Isn’t evolutionary psychology the real challenge to neo-classical rational choice? Isn’t a tool kit of mental functions more plausible and interesting that the utility maximizing model? Isn’t that much more radical than behavioral economics, which is like neo-classical with a cherry on top?
  2. Why don’t economists have a model of when people change their preferences? For example, people seem to change as the age. Is this not true? If it is true, then why don’t we focus more on changing utility functions? Do we really prefer the same stuff all our lives in the same way?
  3. In an argument, economists will concede that people seek stuff other than money, but this is rare in published papers and nearly non-existent in economic theory. Do economists have a theory of when people maximize money as opposed to other stuff (e.g., prestige)? Or which goods are like money (smooth, continuous) and which aren’t? Or which goods are surrogates for money?
  4. Do economists ever believe in endogeneity of preferences? Do economists ever believe that institutions lead to preferences, rather than preferences leading to institutions? For example, isn’t the real reason most Americans belive in democracy is because they grew up in one, not because it maximizes their utility functions?
  5. Do economists really believe Becker’s “as if” argument? Shouldn’t there be many situations where people can’t figure out the optimal outcome? Why can’t “task difficulty” be an important feature of an economic model? Do economists cherry pick situations where optimal moves are easy for people to figure out? Doesn’t the existence of consultants and R&D departments show that firms don’t have easy access to optimal strategies and have to spend much effort in finding them?
  6. Finally, given the critiques from experimental econ, evolutionary psychology and other quarters, why is the basic model of economics still the rational actor? Have economists systematically shown it to be superior the other competitors? If so, where can I read about it?

Mike McBride, I’m waiting for you.

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Written by fabiorojas

July 28, 2008 at 1:56 am

Posted in economics, fabio

35 Responses

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  1. 3. “While monetary pursuit may explain some ruler decisions, it leaves many other observed choices unexplained. The non-discretionary/ discretionary dichotomy highlights the up to now neglected role that psychic income plays in explaining otherwise unexplained ruler decisions.” — http://www.peterleeson.com/How_Do_Rulers_Choose.pdf

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    Fr.

    July 28, 2008 at 8:41 am

  2. This all sounds sensible, except for two quibbles:

    3. Surely economists don’t believe people seek money, but utility. Money is simply a good intermediary between different qualities of utility. If you read Chicago School economists, they are not especially interested in actual prices or markets, but in the application of price *theory*. Prices have the advantage that everyone knows what they are, and can therefore make their own mind up about them. They perform the function of increasing transparency and agreement in a world in which people actually want entirely different things. But in plenty of situations they have little benefit (as Coase pointed out).

    5. Of course economists don’t believe Becker’s “as if”. That’s why it’s an “as if”.

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    Will Davies

    July 28, 2008 at 9:30 am

  3. That’s Friedman’s “as if” argument.

    Like

    Kieran

    July 28, 2008 at 1:40 pm

  4. http://www.mises.org

    The strict definition of rationality- as in rational actor- is a personal who uses reason to attempt to acheive a goal. Value is subjective; therefore many of the actors behaviors (not to mention the goal) may seem ridiculous to us. Unfortunately, many, including a lot of neo-classical economists insist on using the word rationality as a substitute for something like personal morality. In other words, if Bob chooses a course of action (and/or a goal) that John doesn’t like, John will likely call Bob irrational, regardless of whether or not Bob actually used his capacity to reason.

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    August

    July 28, 2008 at 4:35 pm

  5. Concerning the endogeneity of preferences, I didn’t like Economics until I discovered how much influence economists have in the world. So it became a kind of acquired taste. And ss odd as self-referential ironies go, it was endogenous preferences that led me to believe in exogenous ones. Or perhaps I’m just being disingenuous.

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    Zai

    July 28, 2008 at 4:45 pm

  6. I think an obvious example for #4 is the difficulty economics has trying to explain what advertising (and marketing more generally) does. Signal quality? A penalty a firm pays as a barrier to entry for competition? Allows consumers to consume advertising (as Becker tried to argue recently) in addition to goods?

    For something that is such a hallmark of modern capitalism, economics hasn’t done well explaining it as something other than an inter-firm strategy.

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    Mike

    July 28, 2008 at 5:10 pm

  7. Also Will above is right on #3 – economics doesn’t have people maximizing money, but utility. Hence models of people insuring themselves (where they have less money on average but greater utlity), macro models concerning employment where people trade off consumption against leisure, etc.

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    Mike

    July 28, 2008 at 5:19 pm

  8. A few thoughts by item:
    1. My issue would be whether psychologists specify the toolkit in a way that’s useful for economic analysis. That is, I’d read the behavioral economics program in terms of figuring out what is in the economic-action tool kit. So what’s the substantive difference? I’m not convinced it’s “neoclassical with cherry on top” versus “examined through a neoclassical lens because that’s the dominant research program.”
    2. Nothing in neoclassical econ requires stable preferences over time; it’s a convenient (if arguably overused) simplification for particular applications.
    3. The neoclassical rationality assumption is utility maximization. The amount of orthodox theoretical work revolving around maximization of quantities other than utility is vanishingly small. (It’s important to distinguish this from studies that look at the consequences of utility maximization for observable variables including but not limited to consumption, production, prices, and asset accumulation.)
    4. Yes. See e.g. Robert Frank’s work on positional externalities. This stuff makes a lot of economists very queasy for political reasons, but the analysis is carried out largely within the neoclassical tool kit.
    5. There’a a considerable amount of micro literature is concerned with issues like search and learning, so it’s not exactly an alien subject. My perhaps a bit two-faced views are that (a) all social science theorizing involves more-or-less useful more-or-less fictions, so I’m not always going to get too worked up about reality being boundedly rational (but personally won’t assume that away w/o cause), and (b) too much of the rest of the world looks at what economics can and can’t do from the Chicago School’s perspective which, though undoubtedly influential, is hardly the last word on the subject.

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    Tom Bozzo

    July 28, 2008 at 5:47 pm

  9. Wait no longer Fabio. Great questions. Before giving my responses, let me say a couple things…
    A. Most economists don’t think deeply about most of these questions because there are few practical benefits. It’s easier to write papers using currently accepted modeling techniques because, you know, you’ve got to get published to receive tenure. It’s not a dark conspiracy, just people using commonly known tools. Any switch to a new Kuhnian paradigm is akin to trying to switch to a new eqbm in a coordination game. No single individual has an incentive to make the switch, so transitions are tough.
    B. Let me distinguish RC itself from the way most economists use RC in constructing and estimating mathematical models. RC itself is just a methodological framework that is ultimately based on a non-falsifiable premise that people’s choices are ultimately consistent (see aside in 2 below). But economists have developed certain modeling conventions for using RC, and it appears that your questions have more to do with shortcomings in the ways economists use RC than in RC itself. In the end, RC is incredibly flexible; you can add all sorts of bells and whistles and make models more realistic but at the cost of making them really complicated. Finally, I should add that there is another aspect of RC which is as a normative model of decision making. But your comments don’t seem to be concerned with that.
    Now to your questions…
    1. I don’t know what you mean by “real challenge.” Rational choice (RC) is a methodological tool–one that has proven itself to be very useful. For some but not all topics, RC models do well in generating good predictions, and they will probably always do fairly well. An instrumentalist will thus always value RC for this reason. But I think evolutionary psychology will make inroads into economics to the extent that incorporating it into theory is useful for predictions and manageable for analysis. Think comparative advantage: some tools will be better for some research questions.
    2. You can make RC models with changeable prefs. There’s nothing about RC inherently that prevents it. It is a modeling convention to assume stable preferences of a simple kind. If there is a good setting in which changeable prefs make sense, then you’ll see economists consider them. Models of habit formation are one example, thought these models generally assume stable meta-preferences, ie, there is a process (stochastic and/or dependent on past choices) that governs the change of instantaneous prefs.
    (Aside: To be precise, RC involves assuming that people’s choices are systematic in a way that their choices can be represented as if they are maximizing utility functions. So, technically, according to RC, there are no such things as preferences; there is only consistent choice. And there is no such thing as utility maximization; consistent choice is represented mathematically as if it was utility maximization. Put differently, there is no utility in RC; utility is just the name used in constructing a representation of choice. The word preference is just loose speaking. But it is common enough loose speaking that some people, including many economists who don’t really understand RC, think that RC theory says people REALLY have preferences, which is technically not what RC says.)
    3. There is no general theory of the kind you have in mind, and I’d love to see one develop. But as others have commented, economists distinguish utility from money (this distinction was first made in the 1700s via the St. Petersberg Paradox). I think experimental work really makes the distinction more clear, eg, some behavioral economists (this is a bad label, by the way) have models that try to account for inequity aversion and other non-monetary factors in bargaining experiments. Ultimately, what economists want is a general model that applies across many settings, and unfortunately all we have now is a collection of disparate results and models. I think the same thing is found in psychology, where you find different theories for different settings.
    4. Sure, many economists believe that prefs can change. I certainly do. Finding a good way to incorporate these into models more generally is difficult. But it’s also an area for original research.
    5. Like Kieran, I think you are thinking of Friedman’s “as if” argument (with the billiards example). My sense is that some economists take an “as if” argument very seriously, while others less so. The main reason for this is that economists don’t spend too much time thinking about the philosophy of their methods. Nonetheless, all economists that I’ve ever talked to about the topic fully agree that mental effort in computing an optimal choice is very costly. There’s nothing non-RC about acknowledging this point because decision-making effort could just be added to the model as another cost. So, sure, you can add task difficulty to a model, but for me and other economists I know, the question is not whether you can add it but whether the marginal value of the extra complication in the model is worth the marginal cost of adding it. This is the choice any theorist faces when constructing a model. I face it every day.
    6. I gave part of an answer in A. But I am not sure how we can judge one set of tools to be overall better than another set of tools in a general sense. I find RC very useful and insightful for what I am interested in studying, but I frequently draw ideas and inspiration from more interpretive approaches. My current view is that social phenomena are sufficiently rich for various methods to be welcomed in the social science tent.
    OK, I’ve typed too much, and I want to hear what you think.

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    mikemcbride

    July 28, 2008 at 6:30 pm

  10. McBride sounds abit “Austrian” to me.

    I would like to append, however, that Reasonableness, not the hyper-rationality of RC, and Spontaneous Ordering Processes, not Equilibrium-states, seem to satisfy (the modal) economsts’ demand for economic laws and the (modal) sociologists’ demand for Aristotelian-realist based theories.

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    Brian Pitt

    July 28, 2008 at 8:46 pm

  11. Brian, Hmm, that’s the first time anyone has ever labelled me an Austrian. I don’t self-identify as an Austrian, though I admit to agreeing with the Austrian vision of an economy in continual disequilibrium and the importance of information. I’m a formal game theorist, part-time experimentalist, and part-time mediocre applied econometrician (all three of which Austrian economists dislike), and I see RC axioms as methodological devices that have practical value in many cases but are not necessarily the single best device for studying behavior in all instances. In that sense, I agree with the spirit of Fabio’s post.

    Fabio, You might be interested in this article from the lastest issue of the Economist titled “Do Economists need Brains?” that discusses neuroeconomics and the future of economics: http://www.economist.com/finance/displaystory.cfm?story_id=11785391&fsrc=RSS

    An exerpt:

    “The success of neuroeconomics need not mean that behavioural economics will inevitably triumph over an economics based on rationality. Indeed, many behavioural economists are extremely pessimistic about the chances that brain studies will deliver any useful insights, points out Mr Camerer with regret.”

    However, Daniel Kahneman, a Princeton University psychologist who in 2002 won the Nobel prize in economics for his contribution to behavioural economics, is an enthusiastic supporter of the new field. “In many areas of economics, it will dominate, because it works,” says Mr Kahneman.

    Even so, “we are nowhere near the demise of traditional neoclassical economics,” he argues. Instead, insights from brain studies may enable orthodox economists to develop a richer definition of rationality. “These traditional economists may be more impressed by brain evidence than evidence from psychology,” he says; “when you talk about biology either in an evolutionary or physical sense, you feel they have greater comfort levels than when you start to talk about psychology.”

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    mikemcbride

    July 28, 2008 at 10:04 pm

  12. Interesting questions… let me take a stab.
    1) Evolutionary psychology is not the accepted “toolkit” amongst most behavioral economists and psychologists because often they appear as “just so stories” or in the form of untestable hypotheses. It’s hard to infer anything concrete about the nature of the environment of evolutionary adaptation, so evolutionary psychology looks to many scientists like idle speculation. Also behavioral economists are more radical than you think…
    2) Behavioral economists and psychologists do study changing preferences. For example, there is an anthology on Time and Decision edited by Loewenstein which takes about motivated taste change, habituation, aging effects, etc etc. Psychologists are also studying the nature of preference change in a variety of ways (e.g. happiness over the life span research by Diener, classic persuasion research, cognitive dissonance paradigms etc. )
    3) This is just untrue. There is a huge literature about people’s non-monetary preferences. See: dictator and ultimatum game. There is a huge area of research on people’s preferences for fairness as well as altruism. Check out Matt Rabin and Ernst Fehr’s work. These are two major economists who could win Nobels in the future. Also, their work on these topics have appeared in top econ journals (AER, QJE etc)
    4) Yes they do– see Albert Hirschmann for an economist who looks at institutions shaping preferences. Admittedly, psychologists are more willing to cede the role of power in shaping preferences. In fact, there is some great work now on the effects of power on judgment by Adam Galinsky that is worth checking out (short summary: power makes you stupid)
    5) I can’t comment on what mainstream economists believe. Behavioral economists definitely do not buy “as-if” ..
    6) The neoclassical model is tractable and has many applications, but plenty of current economics research deviates from that to build more realistic models about what drives decision making. One example.. nobel prize winning economist Robert Shiller thinks that psychological effects are crucial for understanding macroeconomic functioning (in particular the current crisis).

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    behavioral econ grad student

    July 29, 2008 at 12:19 pm

  13. I would add simply that there is a time and place for everything. Models are, by definition, simplifications or abstractions from the complexity of the real world. The question is whether a parsimonious model is, in any way, predictive of real world phenomena.

    Few (if any) would argue that rational choice adequately describes human behavior in a general sense. Adam Smith certainly did not argue this. His description of individual behavior was surprisingly not all that different from Freud (though less colorful ;-). However, he argued that, aggregate outcomes would approximate a level of rationality that individuals could not achieve (e.g., invisible hand).

    As such, models based on rational choice would not necessarily be accurate representations of real world phenomena. That is an empirical question. If they are not, the question then is what assumptions in the model need to be altered. For example, there has been lots of modeling of information asymmetries that relax assumptions of rationality in varying degrees.

    The assumption of rational choice leads to some very powerful and elegant conclusions — even if they are not always accurate. It remains a good starting point.

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    russcoff

    July 29, 2008 at 2:59 pm

  14. If economists want to know about people’s irrational choices, there is one place to look where they have been cataloging reams of documents of such info for decades: Madison Avenue. :-)

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    Denis Drew

    July 29, 2008 at 3:07 pm

  15. People don’t seek to maximize utility? Who among us will deny that when they make decisions that they seek to do the best they can under the circumstances? That is lay language for constrained optimization, where “best” versus better or worse is evaluated with a hypothesized utility funciton, and the “circumstances” modeled by the constraint.

    And if you believe that preferences are endogenous, and can be changed, point me to the theory of preference formation (by theory I mean a well tested hypothesized that is generally accepted and thus elevated to the level of a theory).

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    HCG

    July 29, 2008 at 4:37 pm

  16. behavrioral econ grad student: Shiller hasn’t won a Nobel. I’m not sure he will, either. But, hey, I’m a Yalie who had him as a teacher for a graduate macro course, so I guess I should root for him.

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    mikemcbride

    July 29, 2008 at 5:02 pm

  17. Why not neurology instead of evolutionary psychology? There’s been quite a bit of neurological research in the last decade that has shown substantively that people rarely make ‘rational’ choices, unless economists want to include emotional decision making under the umbrella of ‘rational’. Emotional decision making seems endogenous by nature; it’s contextual. If we remove all impulsive and emotional economic choices what would we really have left? VS Ramachandran studied a ‘rational’ man whose emotional decision making had been short circuited and found that without emotion to nudge him, he was not able to make decisions. So why are economists still talking about ‘rational’ consumers? Why would anyone talk about ‘rational’ preferences? Is it rational to prefer blue to pink?

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    jcsc

    July 29, 2008 at 6:57 pm

  18. when they make decisions…

    This clause suggests that, under certain circumstances, people aren’t making decisions. Do we maximize utility in such situations also?

    that they seek to do the best they can under the circumstances

    When “utility” is defined this way, and we amend it to “that they seek to do the best they think they can under the perceived circumstances,” it’s impossible to disagree with but also theoretically trivial.

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    andrewperrin

    July 29, 2008 at 7:11 pm

  19. “This clause suggests that, under certain circumstances, people aren’t making decisions”

    Anytime there is a choice made, there is an accompanying decision. Doesn’t leave out much.

    “we amend it to “that they seek to do the best they think they can under the perceived circumstances” ”

    Can there be any other situation? The whole point is with this objective function, we can make predictions, such as people will drive less when the price of gasoline rises, and can actually predict how much less.

    Nothing trivial here.

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    HCG

    July 29, 2008 at 9:09 pm

  20. Why would anyone talk about ‘rational’ preferences?

    Who does this? Not economists — they explore the implications of rational choice models, given preferences.

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    HCG

    July 29, 2008 at 11:28 pm

  21. HCG: Right – or people will tend to vote when they want to vote more. How do we know they wanted to vote more? Well, they voted, didn’t they? Q.E.D.

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    andrewperrin

    July 29, 2008 at 11:40 pm

  22. Andrew:

    You know that the constrained utility maximization paradigm is axiomatic. It is the implications that are testable. So it is not the tautology you construct. That is why I posed the problem as doing the best one can under the circumstances. I have yet to find anyone who will refute or argue against it. Be interested in the argument that shows otherwise.

    And so as you know, if the tax price of the public good is lower, voters tend to choose more.

    Like

    HCG

    July 30, 2008 at 1:23 am

  23. In the case where the costs and benefits are clearly discernible and similar across subjects (the more “economic” cases, if you will) the implications are often interesting. But in cases where these are not so straightforward, as in voting and various other kinds of so-called “prosocial” behaviors, the paradigm is either false or trivial.

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    andrewperrin

    July 30, 2008 at 1:31 am

  24. HCG:
    ==
    And if you believe that preferences are endogenous, and can be changed, point me to the theory of preference formation (by theory I mean a well tested hypothesized that is generally accepted and thus elevated to the level of a theory).
    ==

    I don’t know if such a theory could exist, as these things aren’t easily quantifiable, though people from Augustine to Freud to Madison Avenue have given it a good shot. That said, you don’t see an issue with preferences getting created in a vacuum?

    More generally, when isn’t someone “doing the best one can under the circumstances”? Example?

    Like

    Mike

    July 30, 2008 at 2:03 am

  25. But in cases where these are not so straightforward, as in voting and various other kinds of so-called “prosocial” behaviors, the paradigm is either false or trivial.

    Well, we can write down the interdependent utility functions, but if your welfare is a positive externality to me, it is hard to get data to test the proposition. That just makes it very hard, but not trivial. I always vote for school levies, even though my kids are gone. The lack of excludability makes it difficult or impossible to observe the consumption of the good or service at the individual’s level. However, as you know, school quality is capitalized in land values, and so hedonic demand estimation can measure this at least partially.

    So the paradigm is not trivial, but rather it is very difficult to test the implications. Again, it would be difficult to find a voter who says that he or she does not try to make the best voting decision under the circumstances. No one will admit to irrationality. One may regret particular decisions, but hopefully one will live to another day, and make a better decisions.

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    HCG

    July 30, 2008 at 2:06 am

  26. it would be difficult to find a voter who says that he or she does not try to make the best voting decision under the circumstances. No one will admit to irrationality

    This is not evidence against triviality, but evidence against falsehood (if anything). Or, it is evidence of delusion. But the fact that everyone believes it is so doesn’t make it so.

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    andrewperrin

    July 30, 2008 at 3:03 am

  27. Andrew: By “triviality” I presume you refer to the usual criticism of the utility maximization framework as a tautology: true by definition. That is, we postulate people maximize utility, and when we observe choices, we conclude that they have maximized utility. That is tautological and trivial.

    That is why we say that the framework is axiomatic — cannot be tested. But when we translate that framework into everyday language — doing the best one can do under the circumstances — everyone understands, and agrees. That is the best evidence we are likely ever to have.

    If I have misapprehended, please elaborate.

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    HCG

    July 30, 2008 at 3:17 am

  28. […] six questions for economists on rationality « orgtheory.net (tags: ReadMe thinking econ) […]

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    xoxoANP!

    July 30, 2008 at 10:31 am

  29. Is it right that “No one will ever admit to irrationality”? In some recent work, Stoyan Sgourev and I have explored this question. We build on the philosophical literature on akrasia (especially Donald Davidson) and try to develop an explanation for why people often are internally inconsistent in their choices (i.e., don’t follow what they themselves think is the best option for themselves)— and will even admit this!– and a way of testing it empirically.

    On the explanation: The basic idea is that while it hard to justify a choice that is inconsistent with one’s construal of one’s own utility (hence, HGC’s quote), it can be rationalized in terms of an ideal that competes with, and even trumps, rational inconsistency. Here’s an example to give you the gist. Consider the assistant professor who believes he would be better off limiting the time he spends on his teaching and focusing on his research, but then holds extended review sessions, office hours, etc., anyway. This is different from the usual ‘weakness of the will’ because it’s not about having a bad habit, or being seduced by a ‘low’ impulse. Rather, what helps this happen is that there is an *ideal* (think Weberian substantive rationality) by which this can be rationalized. So, the ass’t professor can say: Yes, I was inconsistent, but I did so in service of a more important ideal than consistency!’

    In terms of empirics, there is– as Andrew suggests– the specter of ‘revealed preference.’ How can anyone be shown to be inconsistent if preferences are revealed in action? The gist of our proposed solution is to look at *intra*temporal inconsistency in how preferences relate to future action rather than in comparing consistency between construed utility and action. An example: Let’s say I’m trying to decide to move out of my neighborhood. At time t, I consider the various ‘components’ of that experience– proximity to job, proximity to friends, etc. etc.– and then come up with a summary evaluation of whether I should stay or go– an overall ‘satisfaction’ measure. Now, there may be other factors, besides my level of satisfaction at time t, that affect whether I do go after time t. These include constraints beyond my control and factors I have not considered but are then revealed to be important. But if I am rationally consistent (i.e., not akratic), no factor that I knew about and considered as part of my summary evaluation should have an effect on the likelihood that I go, after t. So, if we found out that say, how much people value proximity to family at time t, depresses their mobility after time t, even when controlling for their summary evaluation at time t, this is rationally inconsistent because such folks should have incorporated their apparently high valuation of family-proximity at t into their summary judgment at t. And note that this kind of akrasia can be justified by another ideal– i.e., love of family.

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    Ezra Zuckerman

    July 30, 2008 at 11:19 am

  30. HCG: No, I think you’ve got the triviality claim exactly right. But that doesn’t change the fact that it really is a tautology in cases like voting, where (as Zuckerman points out in his very useful post) underlying preferences are revealed only through the act of pursuing them.

    Note that it’s not only RCT that is vulnerable to this principle. Repertoire/toolkit theories like those of Chuck Tilly and Ann Swidler are quite similar in that the existence of the repertoire is revealed only through observing actions drawn from it. It’s impossible to determine the existence of the theoretically possible items that are in the repertoire but not selected for “use”. And in classical genetics, considering something like height, individuals are posited to have a potential height which can be fulfilled to a greater or lesser extent due to environment; but the only way to measure potential height is to look at the individual’s height (and the heights of his/her parents).

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    andrewperrin

    July 30, 2008 at 2:05 pm

  31. Interesting point about revealed preference and repertoire/toolkit theories. Though I wonder if the problem isn’t so much with the concept but the general practice, in the lines of research that use these concepts, of selecting on the dependent variable. That is, in principle, we should be able to study a person or a group over some time interval and code their actions in terms of a repertoire, and then test whether that repertiore is enacted during at some later time. Of course, then there is the specter of occurrence dependence — always hard to say what the mechanism is if we’re just predicting that people repeat their actions. Perhaps this is really your point?

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    Ezra Zuckerman

    July 30, 2008 at 2:27 pm

  32. Ezra – thanks for the heads up on this project of yours! Is there a paper online that people can download?

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    brayden

    July 30, 2008 at 2:36 pm

  33. Sure, Brayden. Thanks for your interest. It’s on my website (http://web.mit.edu/ewzucker/www/). Title of the paper is ” Breaking Up is Hard to Do.” The potentially interested reader should be forewarned that reviewers/editors have thus far given the paper (which to be sure, has benefited from their criticisms, at least the first set) a thumbs down.

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    Ezra Zuckerman

    July 30, 2008 at 3:08 pm

  34. EZ: Yes, I think that’s my point exactly. I suppose one could theoretically ask people what they could do, not just what they have done, and consider the “what I could do” part the repertoire. Another alternative is what Swidler does in Talk of Love: note that rhetoric doesn’t match action and attribute the difference to preconscious repertoires.

    Steve Vaisey has a very interesting article about this problematic in the Culture Section newsletter, http://www.ibiblio.org/culture/newsletter-archive/cult212.pdf.

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    andrewperrin

    July 30, 2008 at 3:39 pm

  35. AP: Thanks for the clarification and the cite.

    It occurs to me also that this is related to the huge problem in strategic management research of identifying an organizational capability in a way that is prior to and independent of both action and performance. This turns out to be very hard for reasons that parallel the reasons you give for why it is difficult to identify repertoires.

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    Ezra Zuckerman

    July 30, 2008 at 5:19 pm


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