Notes on economics imperialism and norms of scientific inquiry

Abstract This paper explores possible foundations and directions for “Neo-Samuelsonian Welfare Economics” (NSWE). I argue that neo-Samuelsonian economics entails a reconciliation problem between positive and normative economics due to the fact that it cuts the relationship between economic agency (i.e. what and who the economic agent is) and normative agency (i.e. what should the locus … Continue reading Notes on economics imperialism and norms of scientific inquiry

Neuroscience and public policy: Toward a new economic interventionism?

Neuroscience is used in economics to improve the description and comprehension of individual choice behavior. It can also serve as a means of evaluating decision-makers’ rationality and regulating their behaviors. This paper analyzes the normative implications of neuroeconomics, i.e. the contributions of neuroscience to welfare economics and public economics. The economic interventions advocated by neuroeconomists (e.g. Bernheim and Rangel 2004) are interpreted as neoliberal politics in Michel Foucault’s sense (1978b). Neuroimaging techniques do not allow the “brain-manipulation” of decision-makers. They can detect pathological or irrational behaviors. This assessment calls for a behavioral regulation of welfare, which has to be distinguished from Sunstein and Thaler’s libertarian paternalism (Sunstein and Thaler 2003). The intervention targets the environment rather than the individual in both cases, but the theoretical justification is not the same. As for neuroeconomists, irrational behaviors such as addictions do not come from an individual’s cognitive bias but from an interaction with a pathological environment. The normative reflections in neuroeconomics continue the theoretical history proposed by Foucault in his works on biopolitics and neoliberalism (Foucault 2004b). Our analysis can thus be regarded as a contribution to studies on governmentality. It claims that there is a specific non-reductionist relationship between knowledge and power in Foucault’s thought.

From Utilitarianism to Paternalism: When Behavioral Economics meets Moral Philosophy

Most behavioral economists take the normative implications of their experimental findings to be broadly paternalistic. They tend to suggest that the results of behavioral economics logically entail the extension of the set of public interventions on the market. In this article, I show that this conclusion follows from an implicit normative reasoning that is unsustainable because behavioral economists remain committed to standard welfare economics. I suggest that the behavioral economists’ defense of paternalism can be understood as an attempt to maximize a social welfare function taking into account the fact that individuals make incoherent choices. But this defense depends on a theory of rational preferences that behavioral economists do not have. Moreover, a defense of paternalism in a welfarist framework leads to downplay the agency dimension of persons. Alternative defenses of soft paternalism may exist but likely require that normative behavioral economics gives up welfarism.