You Call This Atomism?
By Bryan Caplan
Perhaps the greatest truth about human nature that you do not find in the typical economics textbook is that people are sheep. Most human beings don’t like to be different from the others around them; they want to fit in – to look, sound, and act “normal.”
No, it was me – and I’ve said things like this more than once.
I also don’t know where Arnold got the idea that mine “is a world of individuals, engaged in first-order self-interested behavior or, when they appear to be behaving irrationally, engaged in signalling.” Here’s what I wrote in The Myth of the Rational Voter:
Dropping false analogies between shopping and voting restores our intellectual flexibility, making the conflict between theory and common sense less daunting. But how can the conflict be resolved? We do not have to turn our backs on economics. It is only necessary to broaden its understanding of human motivation and cognition.
Economists usually presume that beliefs are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. In reality, however, we often have cherished views, valued for their own sake. As Shermer puts it, “Without some belief structure, however, many people find this world meaningless and without comfort.”… Letting emotions or ideology corrupt our thinking is an easy way to satisfy such preferences. Instead of fairly weighing all claims, we can show nepotism toward our favorite beliefs.
As for Robin, he’s likely to speak up for himself, but my guess is that he’ll embrace a compatibilist view: People imitate other people because it signals loyalty/social intelligence/predictability/etc. And isn’t there a lot of truth in that?
P.S. Arnold is dead on target to write:
Cowen would worry about potential adverse effects on the social equilibrium. Cutting out a few percentage points of deadweight loss is not such a great idea if it sends society careening toward an equilibrium of cheating and corruption. Having said that, it is rarely the case that one can draw a clear connection between good economic policy and bad social cohesion.
Frankly, this is just Tyler being paranoid again. The sky is not falling, and social cohesion is not going to break down.