Economic (ir)rationality in risk analysis

Economics and Philosophy 22 (2):231-241 (2006)
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Abstract

Mainstream risk analysis deviates in at least two important respects from the rationality ideal of mainstream economics. First, expected utility maximization is not applied in a consistent way. It is applied to endodoxastic uncertainty, i.e. the uncertainty (or risk) expressed in a risk assessment, but in many cases not to metadoxastic uncertainty, i.e. uncertainty about which of several competing assessments is correct. Instead, a common approach to metadoxastic uncertainty is to only take the most plausible assessment into account. This will typically lead to risk-prone deviations from risk-neutrality. Secondly, risks and benefits for different persons are added to form a total value of risk. Such calculations are used to support the view that one should accept being exposed to a risk if it brings greater benefits for others. This is in stark contrast to modern Paretian welfare economics, that refrains from interindividual comparisons and does not require people to accept a disadvantage because it brings a larger advantage for others. (Published Online July 11 2006).

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Sven Ove Hansson
Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm

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