Rationaly Choice Thoery?-Reply

fellini at keynes.econ.utah.edu fellini at keynes.econ.utah.edu
Tue Apr 4 15:24:47 MDT 1995


Justin thinks that

>>>>>My argument isn't based on RCT, since it turns on the
potentials of group actors and persons essentially identified as
members of groups. Moreover there's nothing about maximizing
expected utility. I use the notion of interests (quite
deliberately) and not preferences. The list of differences between
my (essentially Lukacsian) approach and RCT is very long.<<<<

Justin, I am sorry if I might have misunderstood your point;
clearly Lukacsian argument is very different from a RCT argument.
But still, I am not quite sure that yours has nothing to do with
RCT. I think the problem depends on what we mean by rationality.
But first I must confess that I still don't think that your
argument and Wright's argument are quite different. You said:

>>>>Wright's argument is based on a tendency towards increasing
productive efficiency and has nothing to do with class or other
group struggle. My argument is about resistance to domination and
has nothing to do with productive efficiency.<<<

I think Wright, at least in those papers, argues that his argument
requires a class analysis based on 'interests'. So, his argument
must have something to do with class struggle.

Lisa (Hi Lisa, it is good to meet you again too, I've always
enjoyed your comments) asks why such an argument is based on RCT.
I think Howie's comment is excellent on that matter:

Howie:>>>For Justin's argument to hold, the individuals who make up
the various groups must eventually act in defense of their
interests" (which are shaped by their location within a social
structure where some groups are dominant and others subordinate).
The  "rational" impulse to act in one's best interest must
ultimately prevail over any counter-vailing tendencies (which can
range from deliberate ideological obfuscation, to "irrational"
impulses, to general processes of social conditioning).<<<<

Furthermore, Justin, I believe the difference between 'preference' and
'interest' in your argument is quite trivial. Rationality principle
does not necessarily imply 'preference'; more generally it argues
that individuals behave in their self-interest.

Clearly, I don't take rationality in its Aristotelian sense (Locke
said "God created men as two-legged animals and left Aristotle to
make them rational"), in the sense of the conformity to the
'deliverancies of reason'. What we are talking about is 'means-end
rationality', in that sense, rationality is a relation between
_given_ means and _given_ ends. This is the form of RCT at least in
Neoclassical economics: "for all individuals there is something
that they optimize (depending on their constraints.)"  But this is
a very general principle, it applies to almost everything: Like
Gary Becker (Nobel winner in economics) did, you can use it to
explain the behavior of ants on the one hand and marriages between
homosexuals on the other. RCT does not distinguish between a saint
and Hitler, for both are quite rational for their given ends (after
all, nazis devised one of the most 'efficient' way for mass-
murder.) So, how can we explain the differences between them? (Here
I am not going to mention the problem that why we should take both
the means and ends as given. Is this a good way to understand human
agency, which is an essential aspect of Marxist 'praxis'?) In this
regard, I don't agree with Lisa in that "This is not intended to
"explain everything" as some critics have said, no assumption can,
but that is not what it is for." To my mind it was clearly intended
to do so.

This is an important question, because most economists who use RCT
framework do not, and cannot in my mind, consider historical
differences and specifities of different societies/modes of
productions etc. For them, ancient Greek society is as 'capitalist'
as the contemporary societies. It seems to me that, a la Karl
Polanyi, RCT is a way to look at non-capitalistic societies from
the perspective of capitalism, for our minds are conditioned with
the categories of capitalism and for we are forced to behave
'rationally'. This how I read Kevin Quinn's comments (am I right?):

Kevin>>>>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.<<<

(I didn't read  Charles Taylor much, but I agree with the -mainly
hermenuticist- argument that rationality is a very "thin"
description of human beings; humans have more 'dimensions' that the
RCT prescibes for them. See D. Little's chapter on interpretative

And I am afraid Justin, you have such an outlook (at least it
appears so to me). Howie has an interesting observation about your

>>>> I would want to take issue with Justin's claim that at the
level of abstraction that matters one can dispense with any
consideration of the content of these interests. For Justin's
argument to work the relationship between dominance and
emancipation has to be an "absolute" one. For him, there just is
domination and there just is emancipation, and, in general, it   is
a clear cut matter to decide what is what. The example of competing
interests between groups of workers that I offered in my last post
was designed to suggest that this is never the case.<<<<

I agree with Howie; what I see in your argument is there are only
two 'individuals', although they refer to 'groups'characterized by
their interests and these two "classes" pursue their own interests.
The struggle between them suggests a game-theoretic model, and I am
sorry but I fail to see the differences between your position and
a Neoclassical one (If I remember correctly, Lukacs argued that
Marxism is characterized by the dialectical method. Your model is
very "dialectical" indeed!).

This brings about the other problem associated with RCT;
methodological individualism. I am not going to pursue this issue
here, but if you think that Marx was a methodological
individualist, then I have nothing to say.

By the way, I am somewhat dogmatic about Elster or Roemer. Elster
always pisses me off. I think D. Little is much more sophisticated
than Elster. But still I don't like their "scientific"
reconstruction of Marx for what they mean by science is
Neoclassical economics. Further, in Little's book (Philosophy of
Social Sciences) the chapter on 'materialist' conception of history
is nothing but a technological determinist reading of historical
materialism, whose merit in Marxism is quite debatable.

So, these are my "bullets" for RCT and its application to Marxism;
I hope they are "low-calibre" enough.



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