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Collective Belief Formation and the Politically Correct Concerning Information on Risk Behaviour

Listed author(s):
  • Lemennicier Bertrand

    (University of Paris II)

The development of collective beliefs via informational and reputational cascades represents a way of shortcircuiting the difficulties related to the collective action of latent groups (the problem of co-operation amongst a large group in the absence of coercion) to ensure the promotion of their particular interests. This essay focuses on the protection of consumers, whose quality of the life has never been so high, despite the prevalence of hazardous products.Rationally ignorant individuals form their opinions by conforming to those of others; this can take two forms, either by consolidating their personal judgement or their private information (informational cascades ), or by pure conformist behaviour. It may even be that such individuals rarely hesitate, if necessary, to admit beliefs that they do not actually hold in order to avoid being ostracised by others (reputational cascades). Latent groups activists manipulate the process of formation of beliefs in order to bring about a predominant opinion on any given issue. Armed with the asset of the prevailing opinion, pressure can be exerted upon politicians in view of obtaining regulations and subsidies which would protect the latent group of which they claim to be the representatives.This is the new face of collective action where the politically correct replaces physical violence or the strike. This way of shaping public opinion could have a beneficial outcome if it were not founded on erroneous information or led to a violation of individual rights due to regulation. However, this not the case. The very leitmotif of this method is, in fact, to bring about regulation which, by definition, violates private lives. In any case, it is dangerous because the manipulation of public opinion by these activists implies an intensive use of rhetoric, distorting the perception of risk, which in turn involves the circulation of misleading information in order to create a cascade modifying public opinion in favor of the proposed regulation, rather than informing the public on the potential risks and letting them insure freely against it if they judge to do so. But for the activist the end justifies the means. Thus, this manipulation of public opinion is a danger to the notion of modern democracy, already so sensitive to the pertaining to the majority.La formation des croyances par le biais des cascades dinformation et de réputation est un moyen de courtcircuiter les difficultés liées à laction collective des groupes latents (le problème de la coopération au sein dun grand groupe en absence de coercition) pour assurer la promotion de leurs intérêts particuliers. Dans le cadre de cet essai est analysée la protection des consommateurs, dont la valeur de la vie est élevée, contre les produits à risque.Les individus rationnellement ignorants forment leurs opinions en se conformant aux croyances des autres, soit pour conforter leur jugement personnel ou leurs informations privées (cascades dinformation), soit par conformisme pur. Il se peut même que les individus nhésitent pas, sil le faut, à afficher de fausses croyances, pour ne pas être frappés dostracisme par les autres (cascades de réputation).Les activistes des groupes latents manipulent le processus de formation des croyances pour faire émerger une opinion majoritaire sur un problème spécifique. Grâce à cette opinion majoritaire ils vont pouvoir faire pression auprès des hommes politiques pour obtenir une réglementation et des subventions à leur propre profit dans le but de protéger le groupe latent dont ils prétendent être les représentants. Ce sont les nouvelles formes daction collective où le politiquement correct remplace la violence physique ou le piquet de grève.Cette façon de former lopinion publique pourrait avoir des conséquences bénéfiques si elle nétait pas fondée sur des informations erronées et si elle naboutissait pas à une violation des droits individuels par la réglementation. Or ce nest pas le cas. Elle est faite justement pour faire émerger une réglementation qui par définition viole la vie privée des gens. Par ailleurs, elle est dangereuse parce que la manipulation de lopinion publique par ces activistes implique un usage intensif de figures de rhétorique, de biais dans la perception des risques, de diffusion de fausses informations dans le but denclencher une cascade qui va modifier lopinion publique en faveur de la réglementation et non pas dans le but déclairer le public sur les véritables risques encourus, la fin justifiant les moyens.Cette manipulation des croyances est alors un danger pour la démocratie politique contemporaine déjà si sensible à lopinion majoritaire.

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Article provided by De Gruyter in its journal Journal des Economistes et des Etudes Humaines.

Volume (Year): 11 (2001)
Issue (Month): 4 (December)
Pages: 1-25

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Handle: RePEc:bpj:jeehcn:v:11:y:2001:i:4:n:3
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  1. Bikhchandani, Sushil & Hirshleifer, David & Welch, Ivo, 1992. "A Theory of Fads, Fashion, Custom, and Cultural Change in Informational Cascades," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(5), pages 992-1026, October.
  2. Abhijit V. Banerjee, 1992. "A Simple Model of Herd Behavior," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(3), pages 797-817.
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