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#21
11-03-2014
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maybe i can state my confusion rather simply after all. how does your economics theoretically account for irrational actors, or people who act against their own interests in point of fact but believe that they're (in so doing) acting in their own interests? whether it be due to some kind of overt exploitation or not
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#22
11-04-2014
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I love how you basically use a Halo forum to talk to yourself

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#23
11-04-2014
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Originally Posted by PM View Post
how does your economics theoretically account for irrational actors, or people who act against their own interests in point of fact but believe that they're (in so doing) acting in their own interests? whether it be due to some kind of overt exploitation or not
This is a little tricky so bear with me.

The question that first needs answered before I can give a more satisfactory answer is: What does it mean for someone to act against their own interests in point of fact while believing that they are actually acting in their own interests? In any case, I'll take a crack at it based on my interpretation of your question.

What I'll say is that the theory does not posit that people always act in their best interests (in point of fact). Instead, it posits that people act according to what they (subjectively) perceive as their best interests.
In addition, the theory does not posit that human actors act in ways that will most effectively/efficiently result in the realization of their perceived best interests. Rather, it posits that people will act in ways that they (subjectively) perceive as being the most effective ways to accomplish their perceived best interests, subject to financial or physical constraints.

(Note: I am using the term "perceived self-interest" to describe what the individual thinks will make him happiest/most satisfied/least dissatisfied; I note this in order to exclude confusion with situations where the human actor perceives that something is against what colloquially we call his best (health) interests (e.g., smoking cigarettes), but does it anyway because he gets enough enjoyment out of it relative to the perceived cost.)

For explaining why humans act the way they do, there are of course many factors. All the economist says is that altogether, what is relevant in order for a human being to act is his perception of the benefits and costs of alternative actions. How these perceptions are formed is not a strictly economic question, but a psychological or sociological one.


The fact that bloodletting was against a persons (objective) health interests in fact did not keep anyone from practicing bloodletting. It is their perception of what the facts are that matter, not the actual facts. A discussion along these lines can be found in Hayek's chapter entitled "The Subjective Character of the Data of the Social Sciences" in Counterrevolution of Science.


Some offhand / loosely relevant comments that I felt like writing:

Spoiler!
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#24
11-04-2014
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Originally Posted by zyphex View Post
What does it mean for someone to act against their own interests in point of fact while believing that they are actually acting in their own interests?
This is tricky. I'm thinking of something more like an American farmer voting for a bill which grants legal immunities to corporate ag entities in his state rather than something like someone smoking a cigarette.

Quote:
What I'll say is that the theory does not posit that people always act in their best interests (in point of fact). Instead, it posits that people act according to what they (subjectively) perceive as their best interests.
In addition, the theory does not posit that human actors act in ways that will most effectively/efficiently result in the realization of their perceived best interests. Rather, it posits that people will act in ways that they (subjectively) perceive as being the most effective ways to accomplish their perceived best interests, subject to financial or physical constraints.
Say it would be extraordinarily profitable to use certain marketing techniques and even violence to sell people or indeed entire countries various things on planned payment schemes (like the mars volta dam in ghanda, for instance) which are not ipof in their best interest

Last edited by PM; 11-04-2014 at 07:15 PM.
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#25
11-04-2014
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This is tricky. I'm thinking of something more like an American farmer voting for a bill which grants legal immunities to corporate ag entities in his state rather than something like someone smoking a cigarette.
I don't see a conflict here with rational actor theory. All it would say is that the farmer perceived that it was in his interest to vote for the bill and so he voted for it. Whether or not it was actually in his interest does not matter for him to take the action. Only his subjective perception matters when deciding upon what action to take.

The rational actor hypothesis doesn't make the claim that actors form correct perceptions of objective facts.

Quote:
Say it would be extraordinarily profitable to use certain marketing techniques and even violence to sell people or indeed entire countries various things on planned payment schemes (like the mars volta dam in ghanda, for instance) which are not ipof in their best interest
This demonstrates the main point about subjective perceptions of what the facts are, and not the actual objective facts, being relevant for the human actor to act in a certain way.
The marketing scheme can't change the objective facts of the matter, but what it can do is try to change or mold the perceptions of the target audience in order to influence their actions and bring about the desired outcome.

As for violence, that's no issue either. The aggressor merely says "buy this or I hit you with the stick." From there, the victim chooses whichever he perceives leading to the least amount of dissatisfaction.
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#26
11-05-2014
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i'm afraid the objective/subjective distinction of which your making great use here is still not so clear cut to me. curious as to whether or not you think there are ipof objective facts as to whether any action is ipof rational or even the most rational in a given situation, and if so, if this could be calculated in an objectively rational or even most rational way.

please correct any deficiencies in what i'm about to put forward. it seems like you are saying that-- if we are to take the overcooked case of "how hitler came to power", for instance, or you can imagine similar scenarios-- your theory cannot explain why such things happen, but only predict that, as rational actors, the masses which brought him into power did so only because they predicted that this action would in turn serve their own best interest.

i am wondering whether your theory can do any sort of explanatory work-- say, whether it can account for what made something appear to be in someone's best interest in the first place; or whether it is satisfied in itself-- "X happened because Y actor(s) perceived the fulfillment of X to be in their (Y's) best interest" can of course be applied smoothly and to every case after-the-fact in theory, but that does not mean it is ipof describing what happens/ed (say the actors ipof were not doing cost-benefit calculations but rather acting out of feeling; now you might wish to say even in such a case they are acting "rationally", i.e., in ways which are perceived to be good at attaining the end result that is seen to be good/less bad. but it seems this is not only untrue but an unnecessary addition after-the-fact where the individual acts out of feeling, out of muscle-memory or habitus.)

Last edited by PM; 11-05-2014 at 02:39 PM.
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#27
11-05-2014
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Originally Posted by PM View Post
i'm afraid the objective/subjective distinction of which your making great use here is still not so clear cut to me. curious as to whether or not you think there are ipof objective facts as to whether any action is ipof rational or even the most rational in a given situation, and if so, if this could be calculated in an objectively rational or even most rational way.
If we are going with the definition of rational as used by rational choice theory, no, I don't think there is a way to calculate the "most rational" action.... I don't think the term "most rational" has any meaning in the context. However, there are of course more efficient and less efficient ways of achieving the same objectives (e.g. if someone wants to walk the shortest distance from A to B, it is most efficient to walk in a straight path rather than a zig-zag). That's the closest thing related that I can think of...


Quote:
please correct any deficiencies in what i'm about to put forward. it seems like you are saying that-- if we are to take the overcooked case of "how hitler came to power", for instance, or you can imagine similar scenarios-- your theory cannot explain why such things happen, but only predict that, as rational actors, the masses which brought him into power did so only because they predicted that this action would in turn serve their own best interest.
Yes that is correct. But, as you noticed, this doesn't tell us anything more than a truism that can be applied to any action: "He acted in such and such a way because he thought that it was in his best interest."

So what's the deal? The deal is that the theory was not designed to answer questions such as "why did he find it in his best interest to do this" or "how are perceptions formed." However, this is not a defect of the theory simply because the theory was not developed with the aim of answering these questions. Instead, it takes peoples perceptions, opinions, and tastes as given , places these people within an institutional setting such as the market, and seeks to derive the results of the interaction between individuals in the institutional setting.

Quote:
i am wondering whether your theory can do any sort of explanatory work-- say, whether it can account for what made something appear to be in someone's best interest in the first place; or whether it is satisfied in itself
No, the theory does not have much, if any, explanatory power in this regard. Again, this should not be viewed as a defect of the theory since it is not the question trying to be answered by the theory. The rational actor theory is merely one part of a larger theory which is seeking to answer different questions for which the theory does have significant explanatory value (questions such as "what are the effects of a price ceiling," "what are the effects of different forms of taxation", "what happens to the demand for one good when another similar good decreases in price" etc.).


Quote:
"X happened because Y actor(s) perceived the fulfillment of X to be in their (Y's) best interest" can of course be applied smoothly and to every case after-the-fact in theory, but that does not mean it is ipof describing what happens/ed (say the actors ipof were not doing cost-benefit calculations but rather acting out of feeling; now you might wish to say even in such a case they are acting "rationally", i.e., in ways which are perceived to be good at attaining the end result that is seen to be good/less bad. but it seems this is not only untrue but an unnecessary addition after-the-fact where the individual acts out of feeling, out of muscle-memory or habitus.)
Yeah, I'd be inclined to say that the actor did what he "felt" was his best action under the circumstances.
If we go the way of Mises, he defines action as purposeful behavior. So if something is purely due to muscle memory or instinct (some involuntary response to external stimuli) and it is something outside the control of the actor, then it doesn't meet the formal definition of action, and thus any theories depending on action occurring would not apply to it.


Instead of thinking about the reasonableness of a person calculating benefits and costs while acting ((how would you calculate this without any measurement units?)), think of the reasonableness of a person, when presented with a group of alternative goods, services, or actions, being able to identify what he thinks are the best option(s) out of all the alternatives given his available resources (wealth and time).

That's pretty much what the core of rational actor theory boils down to: that people choose what they think is best out of the alternatives they can imagine or are confronted with, given their available resources.



Last thought: My feeling is that the kinds of questions you want answered are questions the theory is not attempting to answer, and so it is of course entirely unsatisfactory at giving a deep and detailed explanation of these phenomena (simply because it was never intended to answer these sorts of questions).
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#28
11-05-2014
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i think where and why rat leaves me dissatisfied is that the interests are taken as "given" too simply, and of course a human being disciplined and trained to "be a rational actor", whose already been set-straight, so to speak, before venturing out into "the marketplace" will act rationally in the marketplace.

efficiency seems rather important in deciding what is rational for the victim in an unequal exchange, since there are many possibilities and many ends which are desirable in every case. but consider that feelings of anxiety and reproaches of guilt and shame take a literal toll on the psychical economy of the organism. say an efficient action (viewed from over here) for them would in fact be social suicide (given their whole cultural ümwelt)-- or something equally awful, you get the point-- and therefore actually inefficient or irrational viewed from their standpoint. i mean to bring up the question, what if rationality is not so simple of a predictive tool after all? what if it in fact-- through application, through practice-- changes rationalities, collapses whole systems of rational thought, and takes everything into its own model? this is the worry. tell me if i am still being unclear.


this is more of a personal question, but if it is rational or only logical for those who already have leverage to exploit the position of the other party (who is only made inferior through these unequal exchanges), should the imperative not be to somehow prevent what are otherwise rational actions from occurring when ipof to they would prove to be to the detriment of-- say-- whole peoples? (mars volta, etc.)

Last edited by PM; 11-05-2014 at 09:23 PM.
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#29
11-05-2014
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Originally Posted by PM View Post
i think where and why rat leaves me dissatisfied is that the interests are taken as "given" too simply, and of course a human being disciplined and trained to "be a rational actor", and already set-straight before venturing out into "the marketplace", will "act rationally". but this doesn't explain anything. if it is rational or only logical for those who already have leverage to exploit the position of the other party (who is only made inferior through these unequal exchanges), should the imperative not be to prevent such actions from occurring when they are ipof to the detriment of whole peoples-- up to and including even africans?
You are looking for answers to ethical questions or psychological questions, and that is not what economic theory will give you. It should leave you dissatisfied (or wanting something more) if you are looking for answers to these questions. However, I'd argue a good understanding of economics is necessary if you are trying to think of effective ways to push forward ethical goals through economic policy.

Also, you are correct, tastes are never "given", but instead are determined by some process including socialization and possibly genetic factors. The economist is not blithely saying that he believes they are just simply "given" in the real world. Rather, he is trying to answer different questions than "how are tastes formed" as I said before. The position of the economist is something like, "look, we know people have tastes and desires and that these manifest themselves in actions. We will leave the work of the biologist, psychologist, and sociologist to those respective disciplines (...let's just ignore the charge of imperialism of economists for now...). What we want to know are questions such as 'what are the effects of price ceilings, what is the effect of free trade, how do interest rate policies affect consumer and producer incentives, etc.' "

What I'd say is that economics is a social science, not all of social science. It can't give you answers to all there is to know about reality, the working of the human mind, and everything about social relations. Work in different disciplines are needed to get at all the questions we may want answered.

---------------------------------
Edit:

Looked at your edit a bit, and I just want to be clear. What rational means in the context of economics is simply that the actor has the ability to compare different alternatives and selects the one he finds most satisfying to him. Efficiency and rationality take on completely separate meanings from each other in economics and are not connected to each other. This is a cause of confusion because the economic meaning of rational is quite different from the colloquial meaning. I brought up efficiency because I think it is closer to what you meant by some objective standard of rationality in the colloquial sense of the term.

Quote:
this is more of a personal question, but if it is rational or only logical for those who already have leverage to exploit the position of the other party (who is only made inferior through these unequal exchanges), should the imperative not be to somehow prevent what are otherwise rational actions from occurring when ipof to they would prove to be to the detriment of-- say-- whole peoples? (mars volta, etc.)
Exploitation would have to be formally defined somehow, but I think I can add something here.
First, it depends on what form this exploitation takes (in my view). If it involves confiscating property from rightful owners (possibly through eminent domain or brute force) or infringing in some way on the property of others without compensation, than I'd say it should be stopped.

Excuse me for not using the example you mentioned, as I am not very familiar with the specifics of the mars volta dam (...but I like their music). Instead, let's take the example of what we might call sweatshop employers exploiting employees. I would be extremely hesitant/unlikely in calling for the prevention or elimination of this exploitation. And the reason is that I would question whether the existence of the sweatshop is actually a detriment to the people in it, or if it is the best out of a whole group of extremely shitty alternatives. Since I don't have the time to work out an economic analysis of sweatshops, I'm going to drop a link to a relatively short blog post from someone who has done real research in this area: Benjamin Powell: In Defense of Sweatshops. You'll find that the argument contained in the piece does not have its source in some concern for maintaining high corporate profits, but rather a concern for the actual employees in the sweatshops. As I said before, I think economic understanding is important if you want to be able to understand ways to and ways not to try to achieve ethically-motivated goals through economic policy.
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Last edited by zyphex; 11-06-2014 at 07:38 AM.
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#30
11-08-2014
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i don't want to get too bogged down in semantics or in debates RE: the obj/sub distinction assumed almost everywhere by white logicians or any of that, but i am still curious as to what you make of this bit (i recognize maybe given your education this may seem like an abuse of the "rational", but do you extract any meaning/ can you draw any consequences from the following concern i tried to lay out)
Quote:
there are many possibilities and many ends which are desirable in every case. but consider that feelings of anxiety and reproaches of guilt and shame take a literal toll on the psychical economy of the organism. say an efficient action (viewed from over here) for them would in fact be social suicide (given their whole cultural ümwelt)-- or something equally awful, you get the point-- and therefore actually inefficient or irrational viewed from their standpoint. i mean to bring up the question, what if rationality is not so simple of a predictive tool after all? what if it in fact-- through application, through practice-- changes rationalities, collapses whole systems of rational thought, and takes everything into its own model? this is the worry. tell me if i am still being unclear.







would you be interested in stepping out of the light (your economic fortifications seem somewhat unassailable from this pov) and exploring questions like: what do we mean by "perceived best interests" in cases like hitler's rise to power (so the people desired fascism), and (for comparison) what do we mean by "perceived best interests" in cases like trobriand boys in the 20s who are looking to exchange w one another, and what do we mean by "perceived best interests" in cases like american boys in the 90s signing up to kick some "goat fuckers' asses" over there in a sandy badlands called iraq, and when iraqi boys strap up, and when they don't, and so on-- in exploring what is actually meant in point of fact when it is said in glossary terms that "actors acted rationally"?

would you be amenable to questioning whether the so-called rational choices undertaken by rational actors are (in fact must be) ready-made (in other words, rational only insofar as the "given" situation is taken as given)? the worry is that there is nothing stopping someone who draws all the logical conclusions of rat from "gaming" situations.


thanks for sharing "in defense of sweatshops"

Last edited by PM; 11-08-2014 at 04:32 PM.
 

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