Monday, June 02, 2008

Behavioral Economics = Freudian Pyschology ?

"Self-help books are among the hottest sales items in your favorite book store, right after Gothic novels and cookbooks. Many people are dissatisfied with their lives and don't quite know why. Self-help interpretations claim they offer helpful psychological insight, but do they? Freud gave us the quite valuable notions of id, ego, and superego, but also the quack notions of penis envy and oedipal complex. Later generations of self-help pop psychologists turned Freud into a cash cow of dangeriously overused but highly fashionable slogans, such as psychosomatic illness, inferiority complex, repressed memory, childhood trauma, and hysterical conversion syndrome.

Freudian psychology is just about dead in the self-help arena, but now we have a new contender for leader of the pop psychology: behavioral economics. (My emphasis) Ariely's is one of several new books that take the experimental results of the past quarter century and turn them into self-help. The main message is that we are irrational, but if we understand and correct for this, we can overcome our irrationality and improve our lives. "We are pawns in a game whose forces we largely fail to comprehend," says Ariely. "Although irrationality is commonplace," he continues, "it does not necessarily mean that we are helpless. Once we understand when and where we may make erroneous decisions, we can try to be vigilant." (p. 243)

Like Freudian psychology, behavioral economics gives us a few critically important insights, including hyperbolic discounting, excessive pattern-finding, loss aversion, status quo bias, and innate altruistic cooperation and punishment. However, just as Freud was mostly wrong (and therapeutically a high-maintenance disaster), so is behavioral economics, although I doubt that people will be paying $200 per hour to sit on a couch with a behavioral economics therapist."

That is H Gintis reviewing the book Predictably Irrational, more here (scroll down a bit and you will see it). Strangely enough , soon after writing this review, the same Gintis has a five-star review on the book Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein, also on behavioral economics.

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