A&E’s weekend links include Craig Lambert’s “Marketplace of Perceptions.” About anyone on here has a better context for his essay, but it combines two approaches we often discuss: a) the importance of free decisions by rational people about matters that affect them coupled with b) our ongoing interest in the effect of biology on such decisions. He concludes:
It’s a question that behavioral economics raises, and, with luck, may also be able to address. The eclipse of hyper-rational Economic Man opens the way for a richer and more realistic model of the human being in the marketplace, where the brain, with all its ancient instincts and vulnerabilities, can be both predator and prey. Our irrationalities, our emotional hot-buttons, are likely to persist, but knowing what they are may allow us to account for them and even, like Odysseus, outwit temptation. The models of behavioral economics could help design a society with more compassion for creatures whose strengths and weaknesses evolved in much simpler conditions. After all, “The world we live in,” Laibson says, “is an institutional response to our biology.”
For one thing, I suspect the tension described in Lambert’s article is one that can help us define “manliness” better than chatter about low voices & feminist equity; we tend to admire objectivity, rationality as manly.
While I like a world that rewards the hyper-rational economic man because it makes sense, I don’t always think too sensibly myself. I often make ridiculous impulsive financial decisions. Lambert’s remarks about zero-sum games is interesting. The belief that this guides everything is behind much that is wrong with the world – whether cleaning off our plates for the starving children of China or assuming that third world poverty is caused by first world luxury. Nonetheless, framing, appealing to our non-rational & biological, leads to seller/buyer moments in which the success of a frame affects the price in just that way. Of course, framing is irritating; it isn’t rational. That is why I absolutely hate bargaining – I’ve always figured there is some Platonic true price. Hell, I think that even after I ran a business for thirteen years and often assessed prices pretty arbitrarily & even though I think Thrift Stores are wonderful places to shop. (Of course, the “frame” then is that this is a different kind of shop with a different “Platonic” price and a place where impulse buying doesn’t screw up your budget.)
And to return to “manliness” – how often in ’50s sitcoms did wives lust after mink coats and their “manly” but “providing” husbands eventually came round, moved to anger at first because, rationally, it was wasted money, but then they came to accept that providing for the little wife just such symbols was the manly (biological) act? These wouldn’t seem funny today; now we are partners and we seldom go through such little dances. We find them demeaning, but I suspect we have other dances that may seem equally strange to future generations.