Friday, March 10, 2017

Rational? Not so much

The assumption that agents are rational provides the intellectual foundation for the libertarian approach to public policy: do not interfere with the individual’s right to choose, unless the choices harm others. Libertarian policies are further bolstered by admiration for the efficiency of markets in allocating goods to the people who are willing to pay the most for them. A famous example of the Chicago approach is titled A Theory of Rational Addiction; it explains how a rational agent with a strong preference for intense and immediate gratification may make the rational decision to accept future addiction as a consequence. I once heard Gary Becker, one of the authors of that article, who is also a Nobel laureate of the Chicago school, argue in a lighter vein, but not entirely as a joke, that we should consider the possibility of explaining the so-called obesity epidemic by people’s belief that a cure for diabetes will soon become available. He was making a valuable point: when we observe people acting in ways that seem odd, we should first examine the possibility that they have a good reason to do what they do. Psychological interpretations should only be invoked when the reasons become implausible—which Becker’s explanation of obesity probably is.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 411–12

<idle musing>
With all due respect to libertarians, this is why it is a doomed philosophy. People are not rational beings. They are easily manipulated and swayed—as this book makes eminently clear. The wolves will always try to feast on the sheep. Unfortunately, far too often the wolves are the ones in authority. And that is the reason the prophets of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible spoke out against the authorities so strongly.

It might also be the reason Jesus didn't get along so well with the authorities, either. When was the last time a person in authority took the Sermon on the Mount as their modus operandi? Right.
</idle musing

No comments: