rational choice theory?
jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Tue Apr 4 12:10:13 MDT 1995
Hi, Kevin, glad you're back.
I think that RCT has to be put and kept in its place as a useful but
limited tool, rather than made hegemomic, as economist tend to, or
anathemized, as Kevin suggests. Contrary to Lisa's remark in her post on
this I do not claim descriptive accuracy for RCT, except, as Kevin points
out, in certain limited spheres. Even then one has to watch out and
distinguished TCT effects from RCT motivations--you can get the effects by
an invisible hand effect,w ithout motivations being as posited by the
theory. Moreover you can get many of the effects and resukts of the theory
without positing self-interested motivation. The "ratiobality" of RCT is,
at least at the first appromixaation, foram al and empty, a matter of
utility maximization, and utility may include other's preferences for me.
That said, I think that in our circumstances RCT may have wider scope and
more descriptivea ccuracy than Kevin suggests, because commodity fetisjism
and reification means the ratioonalization, in a capitaolist economic
sense, of morea nd more of society. Granted there are limitations and it's
easy to make the theory tautologous (Becker falls over this line a lot,
explaining everrything, so nothing). But it has a lot of power--prisoner's
dilemmas and collective action and public goods problems abound, and not
just in the marketplace. N.B. Kevin, do you know a book called Pathologies
of Rational Choice Theoty, by a couple of political scientists? From Yale,
I guess IU'm less impressed by the worry about self-constitution, not
because I think it isn't a real phenomenon, but because the number of
people who even think in terms of explicit RCT is very small, probably
fifty thousand or so in the whole country. Sure, some of them are in a
position to advise on policy and so their self-constitutionb may have an
effect on others that way. But my guess is that they vote (in the policy
recommenbdations) the class interests of their masters anyway, so it
hardly matters. As for us, I don't think that talking in terms of
collective action problems will result in our abnandoning revolutionary
struggle, if we participate in it, any more than, as Ron pointed out,
dialecxtical talk guarantees good polictics in a practucal way.
Pardon my spellikng.
On Tue, 4 Apr 1995, kevin quinn wrote:
> Justin raises some profound questions here. I agree with Fellini that RCT
> needs to be anathematized, but also with Justin that it may have
> descriptive accuracy in our present circumstances. But, first, this
> accuracy is limited to some parts of our narrowly economic lives, at
> most. RC models of politics and of the family, e.g., are grossly
> inaccurate, and economic imperialism, whether of the neoclassical or
> analytical-marxist variety, is a dead end in consequence. Second, I
> take issue with the view of social science implicit (I think) in Justin's
> comments. When we employ RC models to analyze our behavior, we are doing
> more than a simple description of an independent object. Our articulation
> of our practices is "partly constitutive" of those practices, to use,
> with apologies, some hermeneutic jargon. Even a gross misdescription
> tends, in consequence, to be partly self-fulfilling--the inaccuracy shows
> up in the way the misdescribed practices "go badly" (see Charles Taylors'
> "Social Science as Practice") I think, though I would need to do lots of
> work to make the case that I don't have time for right now, the Early
> Marx might agree.
> On Tue, 4 Apr 1995, Justin Schwartz wrote:
> > That said, I disagree quite strongly that RCT has no use for Marxists.
> > In fact, Marx himself quite clearly uses proto-RCT models in his political
> > economy,a s Elster and Little show, and even if he didn't, Elster, et al.
> > show that RCT is a useful tool. Of course one musn't make it a
> > philosopher's stone as Elster does. But one shouldn't dismiss as
> > "bourgeois." Recall what Marx said about bourgeois political economy: it
> > has objective validity for a determinate epoch, namely ours. If we live in
> > a society that tends to make us into RCT actors, we can use the theory to
> > see how we behave under these circumstances.
> > --Justin Schwartz
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