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As-if behavioral economics: Neoclassical economics in disguise?

  • Berg, Nathan
  • Gigerenzer, Gerd

For a research program that counts improved empirical realism among its primary goals, it is surprising that behavioral economics appears indistinguishable from neoclassical economics in its reliance on “as-if” arguments. “As-if” arguments are frequently put forward in behavioral economics to justify “psychological” models that add new parameters to fit decision outcome data rather than specifying more realistic or empirically supported psychological processes that genuinely explain these data. Another striking similarity is that both behavioral and neoclassical research programs refer to a common set of axiomatic norms without subjecting them to empirical investigation. Notably missing is investigation of whether people who deviate from axiomatic rationality face economically significant losses. Despite producing prolific documentation of deviations from neoclassical norms, behavioral economics has produced almost no evidence that deviations are correlated with lower earnings, lower happiness, impaired health, inaccurate beliefs, or shorter lives. We argue for an alternative non-axiomatic approach to normative analysis focused on veridical descriptions of decision process and a matching principle – between behavioral strategies and the environments in which they are used – referred to as ecological rationality. To make behavioral economics, or psychology and economics, a more rigorously empirical science will require less effort spent extending “as-if” utility theory to account for biases and deviations, and substantially more careful observation of successful decision makers in their respective domains.

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File URL: http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/26586/1/MPRA_paper_26586.pdf
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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 26586.

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Date of creation: 2010
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Publication status: Published in History of Economic Ideas 1.18(2010): pp. 133-166
Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:26586
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  9. Ted O'Donoghue & Matthew Rabin, 2005. "Optimal Sin Taxes," Levine's Bibliography 784828000000000346, UCLA Department of Economics.
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  12. Rabin, Matthew, 1997. "Psychology and Economics," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt8jd5z5j2, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  13. Berg, Nathan, 2003. "Normative behavioral economics," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 32(4), pages 411-427, September.
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  16. Michael Yee & Ely Dahan & John R. Hauser & James Orlin, 2007. "Greedoid-Based Noncompensatory Inference," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 26(4), pages 532-549, 07-08.
  17. Rubinstein, Ariel, 1988. "Similarity and decision-making under risk (is there a utility theory resolution to the Allais paradox?)," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 145-153, October.
  18. Berg, Nathan & Hoffrage, Ulrich, 2008. "Rational ignoring with unbounded cognitive capacity," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 29(6), pages 792-809, December.
  19. Nathan Berg & Gerd Gigerenzer, 2007. "Psychology Implies Paternalism? Bounded Rationality may Reduce the Rationale to Regulate Risk-Taking," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 28(2), pages 337-359, February.
  20. B. Douglas Bernheim & Antonio Rangel, 2005. "Behavioral Public Economics: Welfare and Policy Analysis with Non-Standard Decision-Makers," Discussion Papers 04-033, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
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  22. Berg, Nathan & Eckel, Catherine & Johnson, Cathleen, 2010. "Inconsistency Pays?: Time-inconsistent subjects and EU violators earn more," MPRA Paper 26589, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  23. Jessica L. Cohen & William T. Dickens, 2002. "A Foundation for Behavioral Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(2), pages 335-338, May.
  24. Luigino Bruni & Robert Sugden, 2007. "The road not taken: how psychology was removed from economics, and how it might be brought back," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 117(516), pages 146-173, 01.
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  26. Berg, Nathan & Lein, Donald, 2005. "Does society benefit from investor overconfidence in the ability of financial market experts?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 58(1), pages 95-116, September.
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