Here is a skeptical take on the insights supposedly offered by the rise of behavioral economics as represented by Daniel Kahneman and others. Since I’m in the process of reviewing Kahneman it will be interesting to see if Levine’s take on behavioral economics jibes with my take on Kahneman in particular and behavioral economics in general – I have a strong sense that is unlikely to be the case.
I see that the publisher now has a fully detailed page up for a volume that I’ve been privileged to be a part of. The Foreword is by a very nice chappie going by the name of V.Smith and includes luminaries such as McCloskey, Boettke, Gintis, Steel and others. My abstract:
Mindscapes and Landscapes: Hayek and Simon on Cognitive Extension
Hayek’s and Simon’s social externalism runs on a shared presupposition: mind is constrained in its computational capacity to detect, harvest, and assimilate “data” generated by the infinitely fine-grained and perpetually dynamic characteristic of experience in complex social environments. For Hayek, mind and sociality are co-evolved spontaneous orders, allowing little or no prospect of comprehensive explanation, trapped in a hermeneutically sealed, i.e. inescapably context bound, eco-system. For Simon, it is the simplicity of mind that is the bottleneck, overwhelmed by the ambient complexity of the environmental. Since on Simon’s account complexity is unidirectional, Simon is far more ebullient about the prospects of explanation. Hayek’s social externalism functions as a kind of distributed “extra-neural” memory store manifest as dynamic spontaneous orders. Simon’s organizational rule-governed externalism negotiates the “inner” world (the mind) with the “outer” world through a homeostatic interface that offloads the cognitive burden into the environment. Their respective externalisms may differ in detail but not in spirit in that it ameliorates their shared presupposition of cognitive constraint. Even though any “optimization talk” for Hayek and Simon is objectionable, knowledge acquisition can be represented by a contextualized stigmergic swarm optimization algorithm that gives due emphasis to both the individual and the environment. The key insight is that “perfect” knowledge is unnecessary, impracticable and indeed irrelevant if one understands the mechanism at work in complex sociality, a stigmergic sociality that in effect augments or scaffolds cognition.
Daniel Kahneman’s recently released book Thinking, Fast and Slow aimed at a popular audience is certainly generating a great deal of press, so far as I can tell, most of it very positive. Here he is outlining his experimental work in a Ted Talk. As a behavioral economist much of what he says about rationality will have resonance for Hayek and Simon and other situated cognitive theorists. I think that much of what Kahneman says is consistent with Gunderman from the previous posting though they are of course very different thinkers.
Check out this recent paper by Herb Gintis entitled Hayek’s “Contribution to a Reconstruction of Economic Theory.” Herb’s paper is, I think, going to be part of an edited collection that I’m also contributing to and am still polishing up. I had the pleasure of meeting Herb just over a year ago at the Society for Behavioral Economics conference in San Diego. I recently read Herb’s The Bounds of Rationality – the title a clear nudge and a wink to that other Herb – H. A. Simon’s famous phrase. And it’s endorsed by none other Nobel laureate Vernon Smith who I happened to meet this past May at a conference.