The notion that human beings are 'rational actors' guides most conventional economic thinking to this day -- it's essentially the idea that we humanfolk make decisions primarily on the basis of whether or not something will be in our own best interests. Or, as Milton Friedman would put it, each individual acts as if he or she was balancing costs against benefits to arrive at action that maximizes personal advantage. This assumption pretty much informs how economists, policymakers, and so on understand human behavior.
The thing is, it's turning out to be wrong. ProfessorJohn Gowdy of the University of Virginia is one of the leading voices amongst economists who are now arguing that human behavior is far more complicated than that -- and that we often behave quite irrationally, even opting to decrease the chances of our own survival in certain situations. I recently sat down with Gowdy, and he elaborated on his thinking, and how it helps explain why humans act against their own interests when it comes to considering things like climate change. Watch:I sat down with Gowdy after he gave a talk at the Climate, Mind, and Behavior conference last week at the Garrison Institute. The findings he discusses above are detailed in his recent paper, the Social Brain.
Another interesting aspect of Gowdy's work is how it understands why some human beings are willing to put their trust in figureheads and opinion leaders that have revealed themselves to have extremely limited credibility -- i.e., Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin. Please disregard my ineloquent rambling at the beginning of the vid:
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