Darin's Reviews > Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
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Jun 23, 08

Read in June, 2008

Ariely is a good writer whose book catches onto the _Freakonomics_ craze by taking a look at times when people make different decisions that typical "laissez faire" economic theories would expect. His book is a fairly easy read and does include some surprising results through social-science experimentation.

However, the text is not without its flaws. For instance, some of the breathlessly-reported "surprising" results aren't all that surprising or even controversial. For instance, the effect of a "free" item on consumer decision-making is vastly overstated as irrational. This idea is old-hat to most and doesn't make much of a point. More troubling, however, is the unstated difference between this brand of social science and pure economics, and the author states such at the end of the text: the ultimate goal of such discovery is to alter and market certain things that are "beneficial" to most people into "free lunches" which are irresistable to the average Joe.

Here is where pure economics gets it right: there is no such thing as a "free lunch", no matter what social economics claims. The buck always stops somewhere. If people are going to make "better" decisions about things, someone somewhere is going to decide what "better" is. And if someone else is deciding the terms of this "better", it no longer falls on the individual to do so.

It is true that human beings cannot always be protected from themselves. If this is true, then this is tenfold true for random human beings (usually via government nannyism) who force "better" upon all people, rational or otherwise. Ariely never tries to face this dilemna, and it weakens the conclusion of the book considerably. This is an entertaining read, and worth your time as a second or third go at _Freakonomics_-like thought, but it doesn't hold a candle to the original.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Susan (new)

Susan I didn't know "pure" economics ever got it right. The worshippers of the pure and free market have always struck me as far more pie-in-the-sky idealistic than the hippie moonbats ever were.


Ethan I've read both books, Freakonomics and Predictably Irrational, and I don't really see the connection between the two books. One seemed more concerned with describing large-scale societal trends (abortion, crime rate, etc) while the other was more interested in showing that people's behavior doesn't follow logical patterns.


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