Tag: behavioural economics

The following articles look at a recently published book by George Akerlof of the University of California, Berkeley, and Robert Shiller of Yale. They examine the role of what Keynes called ‘animal spirits’ and is the title of the book.

The motivation to make economic decisions (to buy, to sell, to invest, etc) may not be ‘rational’ in the sense of carefully weighing up marginal costs and marginal benefits. Rather it can be one of over-optimism in good times or over-pessimism in bad times. Just as individuals have ‘mood swings’, so there can be collective mood swings too. After all, confidence, or lack of it, is contagious. This motivation that drives people to action is what is meant by animal spirits.

But are animal spirits a blessing to be nurtured or a curse to be reined in? Should governments seek to constrain them?

An economic bestiary The Economist (26/3/09)
Good Government and Animal Spirits Wall Street Journal (23/4/09)
Irrational Exuberance New York Times (17/4/09)
Animal Spirits: A Q&A With George Akerlof Freakonomics: New York Times blog (30/4/09)

Questions

  1. Describe what is meant by ‘animal spirits’ and their effects on human behaviour.
  2. Why may animal spirits make economies less stable?
  3. How may animal spirits help to explain exchange rate overshooting?
  4. Discuss whether governments should seek to constrain animal spirits and make people more ‘rational’? Also consider what methods governments could/should use to do this?

Behavioural economics looks at the way in which people behave when making economic decisions about spending. It looks essentially and what people buy and why they buy it. Research in behavioural economics has started to question some of the traditional economic assumptions of rationality and argues that habits and other psychological factors may be more important than conventionally assumed.

Why we buy what we buy Guardian (20/5/08)

Questions

1. Explain what is meant by ‘behavioural economics’.
2. Evaluate the principal factors that people take into account when choosing to buy a consumer good.
3. “….. average people are all far more irrational and more human than economists allow”. Discuss the extent to which this might be true.

In the article below Tim Harford (the Undercover Economist) looks at rationality in the purchase of cigarettes. He consider whether healthy and happy smokers are the same thing and the extent to which smokers would be happier if cigarettes were more expensive.

Why smokers are happier when cigarettes cost more MSN Slate (17/5/08)

Questions

1. Identify the principal factors that determine the level of demand for cigarettes.
2. Given the factors identified in part (a), discuss the likely value of the price elasticity of demand for cigarettes.
3. Discuss the extent to which higher cigarette prices would make smokers happier.

The start of a new year is a time that many of us make New Year Resolutions. Generally we have broken these before then end of January, but a new web site called Stickk.com aims to helps us keep the resolutions. Can economics help us rationalise the process of making resolutions? In the article below Tim Harford (the Undercover Economist) looks at incentives and what economics can tell us about New Year Resolutions.

Rationalising resolutions MSN Slate (22/12/07)

Questions

1. Assess the importance of incentives in determining people’s economic behaviour.
2. How does the analysis of ‘rational behaviour’ help us understand the economic choices people make?
3. Discuss the likely success of the business model developed by Stickk.com.