Praying for an Orange Couch

After reading Youssef Cohen’s Radicals, Reformers, and Reactionaries for my summer course, I was reminded of what we mean when we assume rationality in rational choice models. We assume rationality in decision making, that individuals will attempt to maximize their utility given their preferences and the constraints that exist. There are a few important components in rational choice models, however, that we do not make any assumptions and judgments about. First, in terms of preferences, we merely require that they are transitive. We do not judge their quality. If the actors prefer to buy a bright orange couch for their Continue reading Praying for an Orange Couch

The Unbearable Lightness of Game Theory? has a great post today assessing the merits of game theory.  The author makes some excellent points.  In particular, he points out that some of the more interesting outcomes we see in the social sciences are off-equilibrium–inherently, then, these are the ones that we can’t explain with game theory.  Additionally, and more generally as a criticism of rational choice, individuals don’t necessarily make decisions that conform to what we typically think of as the rules that describe rational actors. Check out the post at, and the preceding entry by the same blogger (Michael McBride) about game theory’s potentially Continue reading The Unbearable Lightness of Game Theory?

A cup of coffee, a blow up doll, and some functionally unpleasant commuters

Die hard rational choice social scientists are often puzzled when they see people making less than optimal decisions. For example, it is hard to explain why people choose to pay the cost of punishment and make themselves worse off just so that they can punish someone who acted unfair or against the rules. I came across an example of this in yesterday’s Washington Post when a reporter published a story about a little known short cut near the Dulles Airport. According to the reporter, drivers normally sit in traffic, moving slowly, on a toll road as they drove passed the Continue reading A cup of coffee, a blow up doll, and some functionally unpleasant commuters