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The market for preferences


  • Peter E. Earl
  • Jason Potts


Learning processes are widely held to be the mechanism by which boundedly rational agents adapt to environmental changes. We argue that this same outcome might also be achieved by a different mechanism, namely specialisation and the division of knowledge, which we here extend to the consumer side of the economy. We distinguish between high-level preferences and low-level preferences as nested systems of rules used to solve particular choice problems. We argue that agents, while sovereign in high-level preferences, may often find it expedient to acquire, in a pseudo-market, the low-level preferences in order to make good choices when purchasing complex commodities about which they have little or no experience. A market for preferences arises when environmental complexity overwhelms learning possibilities and leads agents to make use of other people's specialised knowledge and decision rules. Copyright 2004, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Peter E. Earl & Jason Potts, 2004. "The market for preferences," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 28(4), pages 619-633, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:cambje:v:28:y:2004:i:4:p:619-633

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