“The Case for Mindful Economics,” Colin Camerer, 2008

Camerer’s response to Gul and Pesendorfer argues that neuroeconomics is a useful approach because understanding brain behavior leading to choice is inherently interesting, because brain studies can identify particular non-price signals that will affect economic choice, because brain studies offer a method for choosing between competing theories that explain equally well some economic phenomenon, and because brain studies can assist in explaining why things like “mistakes” occur (where a mistake is a choice not aligned with preference). It strikes me that none of these answer the basic critique of Gul and Pesendorfer: there are no examples in Camerer of a brain study that has elicited economically relevant information (meaning, information that can predict or explain choice behavior) in a way which traditional “mindless” economics can not do. Further, from a welfare perspective, Camerer leaves it open as to how, exactly, understanding brain research will allow for welfare improvements. Brain studies, at this stage, offer no way to map preferences to “satisfaction” or “utility”, however defined. The traditional economic method defines welfare improvement as meaning “an agent would choose A over B given the chance”, and does not try to speak of any other form of welfare, because other forms of welfare are inherently unknowable. Camerer does not discuss how to leap this epistemological hurdle.


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