March, 2018

Reapplying Behavioral Symmetry: Public Choice and Choice Architecture

  • Michael D. Thomas

    Assistant Professor, Economics and Finance Department, Creighton University
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Find the article at Public Choice.

New justifications for government intervention based on behavioral psychology rely on a behavioral asymmetry between expert policymakers and market participants. Public choice theory applied the behavioral symmetry assumption to policy making in order to illustrate how special interests corrupt the suppositions of benevolence on the part of policy makers. Cognitive problems associated with market choices have been used to argue for even more intervention. If behavioral symmetry is applied to the experts and not just to market participants, problems with this approach to public policy formation become clear. Manipulation, cognitive capture, and expert bias are among the problems associated with a behavioral theory of market failure. The application of behavioral symmetry to the expanding role of choice architecture will help to limit the bias in behavioral policy. Since experts are also subject to cognitive failures, policy must include an evaluation of expert error. Like the rent-seeking literature before it, a theory of cognitive capture points out the systematic problems with a theory of asymmetry between policy experts and citizens when it comes to policy making.