The Evolution of behavioural economics

Authored by: Peter E. Earl

Routledge Handbook of Behavioral Economics

Print publication date:  July  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138821149
eBook ISBN: 9781315743479
Adobe ISBN: 9781317589242


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There are many ways in which one might tell the story of behavioural economics. It has a much longer history than many of its current proponents realise, a history that behavioural economics itself can be used to understand (for an early attempt to offer a reflexive analysis of the state of behavioural economics, see Earl, 1983a). If judging purely from the advance reviews by Chip Heath and Daniel Kahneman of Richard Thaler’s (2015) book Misbehaving, one would believe that it was Thaler who invented behavioural economics. This might indeed be true for what nowadays typically passes for behavioural economics. However, such claims contrast sharply with the perspective offered by Baddeley (2013), who begins her textbook with a survey of psychological perspectives on choice that goes back to eighteenth-century contributions by David Hume and Adam Smith. Yet, despite such a long historical sweep, Baddeley’s account is very light on what Sent (2004) calls ‘old behavioural economics’—that is, behavioural economics pre-Thaler or recent behavioural contributions in the spirit of the ‘old’ approach. The same can be said of Cartwright (2014), who similarly sees behavioural economics as beginning with Adam Smith’s (1759) Theory of Moral Sentiments.

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