Revisiting the Behavioral Revolution in Economics 

Article by Antara Haldar: “But the impact of the behavioral revolution outside of microeconomics remains modest. Many scholars are still skeptical about incorporating psychological insights into economics, a field that often models itself after the natural sciences, particularly physics. This skepticism has been further compounded by the widely publicized crisis of replication in psychology.

Macroeconomists, who study the aggregate functioning of economies and explore the impact of factors such as output, inflation, exchange rates, and monetary and fiscal policy, have, in particular, largely ignored the behavioral trend. Their indifference seems to reflect the belief that individual idiosyncrasies balance out, and that the quirky departures from rationality identified by behavioral economists must offset each other. A direct implication of this approach is that quantitative analyses predicated on value-maximizing behavior, such as the dynamic stochastic general equilibrium models that dominate policymaking, need not be improved.

The validity of these assumptions, however, remains uncertain. During banking crises such as the Great Recession of 2008 or the ongoing crisis triggered by the recent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, the reactions of economic actors – particularly financial institutions and investors – appear to be driven by herd mentality and what John Maynard Keynes referred to as “animal spirits.”…

The roots of economics’ resistance to the behavioral sciences run deep. Over the past few decades, the field has acknowledged exceptions to the prevailing neoclassical paradigm, such as Elinor Ostrom’s solutions to the tragedy of the commons and Akerlof, Michael Spence, and Joseph E. Stiglitz’s work on asymmetric information (all four won the Nobel Prize). At the same time, economists have refused to update the discipline’s core assumptions.

This state of affairs can be likened to an imperial government that claims to uphold the rule of law in its colonies. By allowing for a limited release of pressure at the periphery of the paradigm, economists have managed to prevent significant changes that might undermine the entire system. Meanwhile, the core principles of the prevailing economic model remain largely unchanged.

For economics to reflect human behavior, much less influence it, the discipline must actively engage with human psychology. But as the list of acknowledged exceptions to the neoclassical framework grows, each subsequent breakthrough becomes a potentially existential challenge to the field’s established paradigm, undermining the seductive parsimony that has been the source of its power.

By limiting their interventions to nudges, behavioral economists hoped to align themselves with the discipline. But in doing so, they delivered a ratings-conscious “made for TV” version of a revolution. As Gil Scott-Heron famously reminded us, the real thing will not be televised….(More)”.