Addicted to Rationality

Here’s?another hilarious xtranormal send-up – this time lampooning the Becker/Murphy theory of rational addiction:

(HT: Peter Siegelman)

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  1. Dan says:

    Someone should explain to the people making this type of video that a lot of current work is looking at different economic models of addiction – ie. hyperbolic discounting, myopia, etc. Just because a baseline model may seem slightly unrealistic does not mean that is where economics ends and everyone goes home with the simplified model. This is painful to watch and gives our profession a bad name.

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  2. Cash McDollar says:

    Anything taken to an ultimate EXTREME is ridiculous and bordering on madness.

    Rationality is living life with logical means. Over/Rationalizing is overthinking a condition to use logic as a tool to justify any condition, including homicide.

    Religion is good. Hyper-Religiosity is extreme fundamentalism with bombmaking tendencies.

    Sugar is good. Too much leads to Obesity and Diabetes.

    Having a child is a blessing. Being Octomom is a nightmare.

    Real life should be a balance of logic, emotion and courage. Kind of like Spock, McCoy and Kirk on the Enterprise.

    Avoid the extremes and you will lead a good life. The Force Be With You.

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  3. Ole Rogeberg says:

    Reply to Dan – Hi, I made this video and agree that the video in itself is not a “full” argument against rational addiction theories. However, I have published a more extended and academic argument where I also discuss more recent extensions (see here: ), and there is another paper forthcoming in Journal of Economic Methodology next year.

    Briefly put: I think you can make a justified claim that rational addiction theories are able to do some nifty theoretical stuff, like generate unstable, cyclical, chaotic, etc. consumption patterns from a rational choice problem with stable (extended) preferences.

    I think you can make a (somewhat less) justified claim that the theories can be used to match (at least aggregate) consumption patterns for addictive goods (though the evidence is a bit mixed).

    However – I do not think the literature has provided justification for the claim that such models accurately uncover the causal mechanisms involved in generating this behavior at the individual level. And there are several arguments and pieces of evidence against this claim.

    And I do not think the literature has provided any justification for the claim that these models accurately describe the welfare of real addicts and how that changes with policies and context. Which is why I made that the topic of the video.

    My problem is with certain economists justifying the two first claims (novel theory, consistent with certain consumption data) and then tagging on claims they haven’t (and can’t, IMHO) justify regarding the causal explanation for addictions and the welfare effects on addicts.

    And the researchers do believe such claims, as a colleague and I have documented in a survey we mailed everyone who has published peer reviewed work in the area (see hot off the press paper in Journal of Drug Policy Analysis here: And we present further evidence and a more general and extended argument in the JEM paper that’s coming out next year.

    Cheers :-)

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  4. Tommy Schouw Rasmussen says:

    If you always make smart moves, and it is never optimal for a non-addict to do drugs, how do you become an addict?

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  5. KevinH says:

    I actually think this is a bigger crtique of ‘as if’ economics. The ‘argument’ between the characters is kind of getting somewhere until one starts hiding behind ‘as if’.

    If you remove ‘as if’ then you prevent the paradox of choice always being optimal for the chooser, until the chooser changes his choice, which causes that choice to also be optimal.

    Without ‘as if’ you are required to actually break things down into inputs to the system in order to get an ‘optimal’ output, rather than just assuming the output is optimal.

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  6. AaronK says:

    Economics aside, I find the video hilarious. Sorry, I have nothing further to contribute.

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  7. Bruno Langlais says:

    If you are interested in making a similar video, like this one.

    Please contact me, we have a program for journalist and bloggers, giving you complete access to xtranormal for free (all premium sets and characters)

    Look forward talking to you



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  8. AaronS says:

    I think some things begin as a rational decision, but later become irrational, driven by things deeper than reasoning.

    For instance, the first usage of pain killers might be for the rational reason of alleviating physical pain. Or perhaps to alleviate psychic or emotional pain. Or perhaps just because you desire to feel good.

    For a while, it may continue to be a decision that you can control at will–making it a rational decision, presumably. But at some point, if one becomes truly addicted, it’s no longer rational in the same sense that it was before.

    Yes, the person still believes that the pills are for their well-being, but that is because their brain chemistry has been altered, or because they can no longer see the bigger picture of family troubles, job troubles, and physical troubles caused by their addiction, and simply look only to the moment.

    In THAT CONTEXT, yes, it might be described as “rational”–at least in the sense that the person deems it in their best interests. But objectively, surely most of us realize that addiction to an illegal (if it’s illegal) substance poses risks that far outweigh the wonderful highs obtained–or the withdrawals that will have to be endured.

    Rational cannot mean “whatever you think is right for you.” Surely rational implies some degree of objectivity, some measurement against some standard. Otherwise, rationality means precisely the same thing as irrationality–since it is assumed the even the most irrational person, however oddly they may be acting, are acting in a manner that they deem appropriate for the circumstances.

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