Rational Choice Theory

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 10th, 2013

Economics 101

Trying to Predict which Choice People will Choose is Difficult

People.  They’re the worst.  A joke on Seinfeld.  But so true in economics.

People look out for their best interests.  Everything they do that they have power to do they do to improve their station in life.  When they buy gas they choose the station with the lowest price.  When they get a mortgage they go to the lender with the lowest borrowing costs.  When they go shopping they go to the store with the best sales.  Most of the time.

Some nights people may stop at a pizzeria on the way home from work.  Take the food home.  And scarf it down in front of the television.  Sometimes people may go out to dinner at an expensive restaurant.  Enjoying a fine dining experience.  At a fancy restaurant.  Taking their time.  Savoring every course.  A fine wine.  A decadent dessert.  Two very different choices.  Takeout pizza.  And a fine dining experience.  Trying to predict which choice people will choose is difficult.  Especially when the same people may choose one option one night.  Then the other option on another night.

You can’t reduce People’s Decision-Making Process down to a Mathematical Equation

Choice.  What will we choose when given choice?  That is the million dollar question.  For being able to predict how human beings will choose will make the one who can predict choice very wealthy.  Stores would know exactly what to sell.  Investors would always know what stocks to buy.  And television executives would only put television shows on air the people will love.  But stores often have huge sales to unload merchandise that isn’t selling.  Investors lose money in the stock market.  And every fall television executives bring a slew of new shows to air.  Most of which will be off the air by next season.

Yes, people are rational.  And they typically choose to maximize their utility.  That is, getting the most bang for their buck.  But they are human.  They think.  A lot.  And when they consider everything before making a choice they may choose what to others is irrational.  Even if it’s not to them.  That’s the problem with people.  You can’t reduce their decision-making process down to a mathematical equation.  But economists try.  As do politicians.

But their efforts rarely get the people to do what they want.  During a recession they will implement policy to change people’s decision-making process.  They’ll expand the money supply to lower interest rates.  To encourage people to borrow money and buy things.  Like houses.  And cars.  Even if they weren’t even thinking about buying a house or a car.  The hope is that if these people start buying things they weren’t previously going to buy it will generate economic activity.  And pull the country out of recession.

Left to their own Devices the People will make the Best Decisions

But it rarely works.  If it ever works.  A recession is like a cold.  You can take a lot of over-the-counter cold medicine to ease your discomforts.  But you can’t cure it.  You just have to let it run its course.  So it is with a recession.  A recession is a correction.  Prices correct to market values.  And supply corrects to match demand.  Suppliers cut back on production.  And lay people off.  This is the painful part of a recession.  People losing their jobs.  But they have to.  Because there are too many people producing more than others are buying.  But once the recession runs its course the economy can start growing again.  And business will start hiring again.

Trying to prevent this correction with low interest rates will only delay the correction.  Worse, it will encourage people into irrational behavior.  Such as borrowing money to buy a house during a correction.  Getting a mortgage that will soon be worth more than the value of the house.  Once the correction resets housing prices to market values.  While some people make these irrational decisions others make rational decisions.  Refusing to increase production or to hire more people when the government floods the market with cheap money.  Because they know that it will at best delay the correction.  So they won’t act as the government hoped they would.  Leaving the economy in recession.  So it can run its course.  Like the common cold.

Because recessions must run their course the government should not intervene.  They should not try to influence the decision-making process of the people.  For left to their own devices the people will make the best decisions.  Which is why countries with free market economies have healthier economies than countries with managed economies.  And why when the government does not intervene in the economy recessions are shorter and less painful.  Because the correction that must happen happens.  In the shortest time possible.  But when government intervenes we get things like the Great Depression.  And the Great Recession.

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Opportunity Costs

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 4th, 2012

Economics 101

Those on the Left are all for Choice as long as you Choose what they want you to Choose

Choice.  It’s what life is.  Every day we make hundreds of choices in our life.  The communists called that a burden.  And that their way removed all that stress from our lives.  The stress of constantly having to choose.  They came up with a new freedom.  Freedom from choice.  To live under oppression.  Like a slave.  Where you no longer had the burden of making a choice every waking hour of your day.  You simply took what the government gave you.  And relaxed.  Truly free.

It turned out the people living under communism preferred having that burden of choice.  And took every opportunity to escape the communist ‘freedom’.  To a freedom where you were free to choose whatever you wanted.  Instead of taking what central planners gave you.  Those on the Left always had a soft spot in their hearts for communism.  And Soviet central planners.  For they never cared that much for free markets.  Laissez faire capitalism.  Freedom of choice.  Because people so often chose poorly in their opinion.  For they weren’t as educated and enlightened as they were on the Left.  And therefore chose the wrong kind of foods to eat.  The wrong kind of beverages to drink.  The wrong kind of cars to drive.  The wrong kind of power to generate.  And the wrong people to vote for.

No.  Those on the Left are no fans of choice.  Except, of course, when it comes to abortion.  When it comes to abortion then they are big fans of choice.  But not so much when it comes to us choosing what to eat, drink and drive.  Or how we generate our energy.  So when it comes to choice those on the Left are like the Soviet central planners.  They are all for choice.  As long as you choose what they want you to choose.

When making any Economic Decisions we make our Choice based on Opportunity Costs 

But we choose.  Because we can.  At least with most things.  But how do we choose?  Does price determine what we choose?  Sometimes.  Quality?  Sometimes.  Loyalty?  Sometimes.  Sometimes it’s one of these things.  Sometimes a combination of all of these things.  Sometimes it’s none of these things.  So what is it that makes up your mind when confronted with a choice?  Do you know?  You do.  For obviously you’re making the choice.  But the ‘why’ we may have to coax out of you.  For you will probably not be able to explain why.  At least not as well an economist can.

The study of economics is all about choice.  And trying to determine what influences people’s choices.  So economists can offer economic policies to maximize economic activity.  By maximizing that thing we ultimately trade for.  Which is what?  Happiness.  We choose to increase our happiness.  Or utility in the parlance of economics.  The things we choose are the things that will give us the greatest happiness.  Or the greatest utility.  But if you’re like me you never saw ‘utility’ or ‘happiness’ expressed as units on a price tag in a store.  Price tags show only price.  Which tells us little how happy something will make us.  So how do we choose the things that will maximize our happiness?  Especially if you’re looking at two different things that have the same price?

Easy.  We don’t make our decision by looking at what we’re buying.  We make our decision based on what we’re not buying.  What we are giving up by buying this thing or that service?  What might have been had it not been for this purchase?  What opportunity we’re passing on to make this purchase?  What cost are we paying in lost opportunity by committing to this purchase?  In other words, when making any economic decisions we make our choice based on opportunity costs.  On an amount of happiness we’re giving up to acquire some other amount of happiness.  And whatever the number of our choices the end result is the same.  What we choose gives us more happiness than all other possible alternatives.  Regardless of price, quality or loyalty.  Though they could influence us when there is a tie.

Liberals make us Buy not what Increases our Happiness but what Increases their Happiness

You can’t put a price on happiness.  That’s what they say.  And they are right.  Whoever they are.  For example, luxury cars are nice.  But they are expensive.  Subcompacts are not as nice as luxury cars.  But they are not as expensive either.  So if you were choosing between these two cars which one would you choose?  I can’t tell because I don’t know your income.  But I can guess at your decision process.  You’re going to compare opportunity costs.  Driving a luxury car gives you enormous amounts of happiness.  For the limited time you spend driving it.  Enormous happiness for a limited amount of time.  Okay.  But what are the opportunity costs?

Let’s say your daily commute to and from work is one hour.  But when you get home you enjoy 4 hours between surfing the Internet and watching cable television.  When you’re not at work or home you like to use social media on your smartphone interacting with your friends.  And using your smart phone apps to maximize your fun in the evenings and on the weekend.  You like to spend your Sunday mornings at the coffee shop with you tablet reading the online Sunday papers.  The hours of driving happiness come to 10 hours a week.  And the hours of online/watching cable happiness comes to 32 hours a week.  Now being that you spend more time online or watching cable than driving then it’s safe to say that driving brings you less happiness than those other activities.  Because luxury cars are expensive they come with a high monthly payment and a high insurance premium.  Which means you will have to cut back on other spending to afford the luxury car.  So to afford the luxury car you have to give up your cable and home Internet access.  And cut back on your minutes on your smartphone.

The opportunity cost of the luxury car is giving up cable TV and cutting back on Internet access and smartphone minutes.  The opportunity cost of keeping those things is getting a subcompact car instead of a luxury car.  This is the ultimate decision we make in all of our economic decisions.  Which will cost us more in sacrificed happiness in the long run?  Which makes those decisions easy.  In the above example you would probably have never given the luxury car any serious thought.  This is why free markets work so well.  Why laissez faire capitalism works so well.  Because the economy is full of individuals making these decisions quickly.  Far quicker than any Soviet state planner.  And with far more insight into our own wants and desires than any Soviet state planner.  And in the aggregate this drives economic activity.  Bringing the things we want to market.  The things that give us the greatest amount of happiness.  The things that have the lowest opportunity costs.  Unlike Soviet central planning.  Or American liberal Democrat central planning. 

No.  These people try to change our purchasing decisions.  Making us buy not what increases our happiness.  But what increases their happiness.  Which is why when liberal Democrats are in power there is a general economic decline.  Because they do alter our purchasing decisions.  By increasing the opportunity costs of the things that increase our happiness.  So that we buy fewer of them.  But we don’t buy more of the things they want us to buy.  Because those things don’t increase our happiness.  When they subsidize hybrid cars (paid for with higher taxes from us) to get us to buy them it doesn’t make the hybrid cars give us any more happiness.  It just leaves us with less money because of the higher taxes.  So we buy less of everything else.  And in the aggregate this lowers economic activity.  Leaving us all less happy.

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FT112: “You can have liberty or equality but you can’t have both.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 6th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

Higher Taxes were Okay when it was Someone Else’s Money but they’re Just Plain Unfair when it’s your Money

People throw around the word ‘equality’ a lot.  Especially politicians.  To make life fair.  More egalitarian.  Where they make the rich pay their fair share.  For they won’t just voluntarily pay their fair share, will they?  Sounds fair, yes?  And just.  For no one should be ‘too rich’ when others have ‘so little’.  Of course the only people who agree with this are the ones who have ‘so little’.  Those who are ‘too rich’ are not all that supportive of using their wealth to help others be more equal.  Especially when the scale that measures what is ‘too rich’ is a sliding scale.  For someone believes a person is ‘too rich’ when they have more than he or she does.  And that holds true even if they win the lotto.

It’s open season on rich people.  Everyone attacks them.  For they are easy prey.  There are few of them.  So angering them won’t have a huge impact at the polls.  Which is why politicians whip up a fury of hate against them.  Which the people who have ‘so little’ are eager to join them in that hate.  Because they hate rich people.  They hate them a lot.  And there just isn’t anything good they can say about them.  They hate them so much that they buy lotto tickets in hopes of becoming rich people themselves.  Because that’s the only thing that can assuage their hate of rich people.  Becoming rich people.

People who have ‘so little’ will define anyone as having ‘too much’ if they have more than they do.  But if they win the lotto it’s a different story.  For rich people like them don’t have ‘too much’ then.  In fact they become downright greedy.  And become everything they once hated.  They don’t want to share their winnings.  (Even some in lotto groups who bought a winning ticket will try to keep that ticket for themselves, saying they bought THAT ticket with his or her own money and not the group’s money and therefore they don’t have to share THOSE winnings.)  And they sure don’t want to pay half of their winnings in taxes.  Higher taxes were okay when it was someone else’s money.  But they’re just plain unfair when it’s your money.  It’s just a fact of life.  People are greedy.  Even those with ‘so little’.

If there is No Incentive to Choose the Hard Jobs then Someone will have to Coerce People to ‘Choose’ Them

Consider this.  How hard would you work if you had to deposit your entire paycheck into a general fund?  Let’s call the fund the Equality Fund.  All workers everywhere on payday take their checks to the bank and deposit them into the Equality Fund.  And then they get their ‘equal share’ from that fund to live on.  So doctors and janitors earn different incomes.  But their distributions from the Equality Fund are the same.  NFL franchise players and workers in fast food earn different incomes.  But their distributions from the Equality Fund are the same.  Ditto for movie stars, rock stars, pop stars and lotto winners.  They all deposit their income into the General Fund.  And live on the same money as do hair stylists, Wal-Mart greeters, busboys and gardeners.  Even the people who don’t work.  Who love the Equality Fund.  Because with equality they don’t have to work.  Pretty sweet.  Don’t work.  And get paid the same as those who do work.  So they have no incentive ever to go to work.  And some of those who do work start asking themselves, “Why am I still working?” 

If there was an Equality Fund how hard would you work at your job?  Would you even work?  Would you choose a difficult career field that took a lot of costly education?  Would you work that hard to earn more money only to deposit those high earnings into the Equality Fund?  Instead of using those high earnings to buy a nice house?  In a nice neighborhood?  With nice schools for your kids?  Probably not.  Let’s say everyone is paid $50,000 from the Equality Fund.  Regardless of what you paid into it.  Either nothing.  Or millions of dollars.  Everyone lives on $50,000 per year.  Not too shabby.  Especially for low-income people or the unemployed.  They’re going to love the Equality Fund.  But those paying in millions will not be living in million dollar mansions.  Buying expensive cars.  Big boats.  Fly in their private jets.  Or even fly first-class.  No one will wear a Rolex watch.  Or other expensive jewelry.  Or high fashion.  No one will have these things.  Not when you’re raising a family on $50,000 per year.  Even if your work skills bring in the kind of high earnings that could afford them.  Because all of your pay will go into the Equality Fund.  Is that fair?  It’s equality.  But is it fair?

Let’s take this a little further.  Say everyone wises up and quits working.  Because they get the same amount to live on whether they work or not.  So why work?  Those who would like to tell the boss off and quit working are no doubt saying, “Sounds good to me.”  But this would cause a problem.  For what would you buy with your $50,000 annual allotment if no one worked?  For you need people to work if you want to buy a house.  A car.  A boat.  Fly.  Wear a watch.  Jewelry.  Clothing.  Sure, some will say we can just buy old homes.  And buy imported cars, boats, planes, watches, jewelry and clothing.   Sure, you could.  But you can’t import everything.  You can’t import road maintenance.  You can’t import port facilities and railroad infrastructure.  Or the people to operate them.  You can’t import restaurants complete with chefs, servers and busboys.  You can’t import emergency trauma care.  Maternity care.  Cardiac care.  A college education.  You just can’t import everything.  Someone has to work these jobs.  Even though they won’t get paid any more for working than they would for sitting at home collecting their allotment from the Equality Fund.  And when no one chooses to work at the jobs we can’t replace with imports someone will have to ‘help’ them change their mind.  To make them choose to work.  Even if it’s against their will. 

This is the problem with equality.  If we pay everyone equally no one will choose the hard jobs.  They’ll choose the easy jobs.  Worse, if we pay them equally whether they work or not they’ll simply choose not to work.  And if there is no incentive to choose the hard jobs then someone will have to coerce people to ‘choose’ them.

You can have Liberty or Equality but You can’t have Both

To choose your career you need liberty.  To choose to go to school to learn a high-paying skill you need liberty.  To work in a high-paying job you need liberty.  To keep your high-pay earnings you need liberty.  To work hard and to advance yourself to reach your personal goals you need liberty.  To play in the NFL you need liberty.  To be a movie star or rock star or pop star you need liberty.  To play the lotto and keep your winnings you need liberty.  To do all of these things you need liberty.  And one other thing that makes all of these things possible.  Inequality.

People working in fast food can’t earn the same as neurosurgeons.  Because if they paid their workers that much the cost of fast food would be prohibitive.  And no one would be neurosurgeons because it’s a lot less stressful working in fast food.  It doesn’t take years of training.  Or expensive malpractice insurance.  You don’t have to live with accidents that permanently disable or kill people.  Or deal with their aggrieved family members.  So that’s why we pay neurosurgeons so much.  It’s a very difficult profession that few choose.  Because so few choose this profession those that do are very valuable resources.  Demanding high pay.  And because they demand such high salaries it attracts the few who are willing to deal with all the things that come with being a neurosurgeon.  The high pay helps people choose this valued career despite the high personal costs.  So inequality is a good thing.  It provides incentive to choose the hard jobs.  Which is a good thing.  For who wants a low-paid person forced to be a neurosurgeon operating on his or her brain?

Everyone who has ever bought a lotto ticket agrees that inequality is a good thing.  They wouldn’t buy a ticket otherwise.  Because they buy those tickets to become rich.  To have more than other people.  That is, to be unequal.  Because everyone is greedy.  Just like football players, movie stars, rock stars, pop stars and, of course, lotto winners.  And not a one of them is going to work hard to develop their unique earning potential just to put the fruits of their labor into the Equality Fund.  They may talk the talk.  Support Democrats.  But they do that just so the people who have ‘so little’ leave them alone.  For they all still live in their million dollar mansions.  Because they like being unequal.  The more unequal the better.  They adore their pampered lives.  And when it comes to choosing liberty or equality they choose liberty.  As their comfortable lives clearly show.  For you can have liberty.  Or you can have equality.  But you can’t have both.  And that’s okay with them.

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