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Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions By Dan Ariely Hardcover – 2008
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There are some very interesting anecdotes (for example, do you know why we think black pearls are valuable when originally no one wanted to buy them at any price?) and these are where most of the book's value lies.
The principal weakness comes from Ariely's conclusions based on the work he's carried out. He acknowledges that we humans are "irrational" compared to the straw man of the "rational optimizer" beloved of neoclassical economic theory, but while some of his examples are interesting he fails to see the entire picture. Thus whereas Keen shows that the neoclassical model is computationally impossible, Ariely merely shows that we have different decision-making processes in two distinct contexts: interpersonal and financial. This is valid, but Ariely then goes on to show that he hasn't really explored the interpersonal context with any degree of rigor.
A couple of examples will illustrate what I mean. In the first example Ariely talks about how companies strive to create a "social exchange" in the workplace because people generally work harder and more diligently in social exchange settings than in compensation-based settings. We can think of how we might keep on struggling to get a friend's piano up the stairs of a narrow apartment building long after we'd have given up if we were simply being paid $10 per hour by a stranger to perform the same task. So Ariely notes that companies try to exploit our social side in order to get more work out of us (he doesn't look at the ethics of this attempt, or even at its many infeasibilities). Then he suggests that in order to reinforce the social dynamic and avoid corrupting it with the financial dynamic (because it's not possible to combine the two) companies should not give bonuses but instead should send employees off on a paid-for vacation. The problem, of course, is that most employees don't want to be placed in a parent-child relationship. Most employees think of themselves as independent adults. Saying "here's a vacation we've arranged for you" violates an employee's independence. Worse still it assumes the employee's plans for their free time are irrelevant (the cost of leaving one's home, family, and friends for the duration of the enforced vacation are apparently zero where the company is concerned...). Obviously this recommendation would be disastrous under real-world conditions and one wonders how Ariely failed to think through his proposal.
A second example of this failure to think things through comes with Ariely's analysis of cap-and-trade. Rightly he points out that when you set a price on something (in this case pollution) then people may elect to pay more in order to get more. Just as we might only take a single candy from a tray being passed around the group but might buy ten if the candies are being sold, so too might companies pollute less if pollution were a "social good" rather than a priced good. With cap-and-trade companies might simply elect to pay more in order to feel free to pollute more. So Ariely proposes making pollution a "social good." But again a moment's thought shows this to be absurd. Not only do we have far too many examples of companies being quite happy to pollute when it's a cost-free exercise, Ariely's own book shows that executives will ignore social factors when their focus in on financial rewards. As executives are almost exclusively motivated by fat financial rewards, the notion that they would take social norms into account when deciding whether or not (or how much) to pollute is like saying that investment bankers would put the needs of their clients and the financial system in general ahead of their own desire for the $100 million bonus they get from pushing CDOs onto unsuspecting dupes.
So in the end the book is worth reading for its anecdotal value but not for Ariely's own conclusions or policy suggestions. He's not-quite an economist and not-quite a behavioral psychologist and ultimately that means he's not-quite useful as a guide to policy formulation on either the micro or the macro scales.
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anyway this is useful book for me which i thank you to have it