Notes on Masonomics, 1: Reason without Rationality
By Arnold Kling
In chapter one of his economics textbook Hidden Order, David Friedman writes,
Economics is that way of understanding behavior that starts from the assumption that individuals have objectives and tend to choose the correct way to achieve them.
…For a familiar example of rational behavior without reasoning, consider the situation of an infant…When he is hungry or wet, he makes loud and unpleasant noises…I doubt that babies think through the logic of their situation–but they take the action most likely to achieve their ends.
This is the Chicago viewpoint, which celebrates rationality that does not come from reasoning. In contrast, Masonomists are fascinated by reasoning that does not necessarily produce rationality. Consider Robin Hanson:
Most folks say they prefer truth, but the folks most vocal about loving “truth” are usually selling something. For preachers, demagogues, and salesmen of all sorts, the wilder their story, the more they go on about how they love truth…Academics, gamers, poker players, and amateur intellectuals of all sorts are proud of the fact that their efforts reveal truth, and they make sure you notice their proficiencies…
The people who just want to know things because they need to make important decisions, in contrast, usually say little about their love of truth; they are too busy trying to figure stuff out. These are the “truth lovers” I most respect in the sense of trusting their efforts to be directly targeted to actually uncovering truth. Sellers, hobbyists, and do-gooders are instead more likely to pretend to seek truth while actually seeking cash or respect.
Read the whole thing. His conclusion is that the fact that so few people are willing to pay for truth is an indicator of how few truth-lovers there are. (me: but there are lots of people willing to pay for newspapers, books, etc. Also, there may be free-rider problems with paying for truth). Pointer from Tyler Cowen.
Masonomics looks at the human brain as an organ that is highly evolved to engage in deception, including self-deception. It can reason without necessarily being rational. The way I see it, Masonomics does not necessarily agree that humans tend to choose the best ways to achieve their objectives. Instead, we are limited by our capacity for self-deception, among other shortcomings.
Humans tend to make many mistakes. One way to reduce mistakes is to consult other people on decisions, or even to outsource decision-making to others. Tyler Cowen is intrigued by mechanisms in which the outsourcing choice is voluntary, made by the individual. For example, you ask the waiter to recommend something at a restaurant. One can think of government regulation as the outsourcing of individual decision-making, but with the outsourcing choice not made by the individual.