Public choice (also known as political economy) is applying economics to politics.  Behavioral economics is applying psychology to economics.  What happens when you do both at the same time, creating a “behavioral public choice”?  Gary Lucas and Slavisa Tasic‘s “Behavioral Public Choice and the Law” (West Virginia Law Review, 2015) provides an amazingly careful, comprehensive, and entertaining review of the literature.  Intro (with voluminous footnotes omitted):

Behavioral public choice is both an extension of and a reaction to
behavioral economics and its counterpart in legal scholarship, behavioral law
and economics. Psychologists and behavioral economists have documented
imperfections in human reasoning, including mental limitations and cognitive
and emotional biases. Their research challenges the rational actor model of
conventional economics, especially the idea that individuals acting in a free
market can make optimal decisions without the government’s assistance.
Behavioral economists and legal scholars in the behavioral law and economics
movement have used this research to justify paternalistic government
interventions, including cigarette taxes and consumer protection laws, that are
intended to save people from their own irrational choices. Because of their focus on market participants and paternalism, most behavioral economists and
behavioral law and economics scholars ignore the possibility that irrationality
also increases the risk of government failure.” Behavioral public choice
addresses that oversight by extending the findings of behavioral economics to
the political realm.

A key insight of behavioral public choice is that people have less
incentive to behave rationally in their capacity as political actors than in their
capacity as market actors. Elections are rarely decided by a single vote, so
voters have little reason to take them seriously. Moreover, the voters,
politicians, and bureaucrats who participate in the political process know that
the costs and benefits of their decisions fall largely upon others. So these
political actors have less at stake than consumers, investors, and other market
participants who make decisions that primarily affect themselves.

Because political actors have little incentive to behave rationally,
irrationality is common in politics, and it has a substantial negative effect on
the law.

One fun section among many:

I. Opportunity Cost Neglect: Ignoring Implicit Tradeoffs

Some scholars are skeptical of certain government interventions on the
grounds that they are ineffective, excessively costly, and inimical to economic
growth. But opinion research shows that the public enthusiastically embraces
government spending, tax expenditures, and regulation. Moreover, affection
for government is not limited to liberals and Democrats. Conservatives and
Republicans also express strong support for government as long as researchers
ask them about specific programs rather than asking about government in
abstract or general terms.

Nonetheless, opinion research also reveals that support for many
government programs declines (often substantially) when researchers draw
attention to the programs’ opportunity costs. The opportunity cost of a
government program consists of the private and public goods that society must
forgo to make that program possible. Opinion research suggests that unless
explicitly prompted to consider these costs, the public often ignores them. Opportunity cost neglect is consistent with the finding that decision makers
focus on salient situational elements and irrationally ignore implicit
information. The benefits of many government programs are obvious, but their
opportunity costs are often implicit and therefore easy to overlook…


Widespread neglect of the opportunity costs of government programs
has several implications. First, it artificially increases the demand for direct
spending, tax expenditures, and regulation above the level that voters would
otherwise support. In particular, opportunity cost neglect helps explain chronic
budget deficits. Voters express strong support for government spending, but at
the same time, they are also unwilling to pay for it. Second, opportunity cost
neglect results in a misallocation of government funds. Specifically, opinion
research suggests that the federal government spends more on the military and
less on other programs than it would if voters were cognizant of the tradeoffs
involved. Finally, opportunity cost neglect affects the government’s choice of
policy instruments. Voters are attracted to policies that conceal tradeoffs. This
explains why voters generally prefer tax expenditures to similar direct spending
programs. It also explains why, despite economists’ objections, voters prefer
to address global warming through command-and-control regulations, which
conceal the opportunity costs of environmental protection, rather than a carbon
tax, which would make those costs more salient.

Read the whole thing.