Behavioral Biology, the Rational Actor Model, and the New Feminist Agenda


Law and the social sciences are on the brink of a paradigm shift. For the last half century, imperial economics and the rational actor model have dominated academic discourse. The model's simplifying assumptions that bracketed distributions of wealth and entitlements, assumed that preferences were exogenously determined, and maintained that individuals acted to maximize their own self interest provided a powerful research tool. While economists have always recognized that the model did not accurately describe human motivation and while subsequent models selectively relaxed the original assumptions, the basic model generated predictions about the potential impact of proposed policies, and served to explain the limitations of command-control economics as Communism and socialism appeared to run their course. With the " fall of the wall, " Fukuyama's celebration of " The End of History, " and globalization, the final triumph of decentralization, autonomy and markets appeared at hand. Rather than assure the continued dominance of rational actor methodology, however, the very success of deregulation and decentralization is insuring its demise. The most interesting issues of the day, which once focused on the structure of government, are today more focused on the creation of markets and the role of culture. 2 How do societies manage the transition to freer markets and decentralized decision-making? What is the minimum infrastructure necessary for a well-functioning society? Why do some cultures, even within the same society, prosper more readily than others? And perhaps most critically, how do societies instill habits of honesty and trustworthiness that even Richard Posner sees as enhancing the efficiency of markets? (Posner 1998) In addressing these issues, more complex models of human motivation are critical. Economics itself, led by the insights that have come from game theory, is increasingly focused on examination of trust, altruism, reciprocity and empathy. (Goodenough 2007) Behavioral economics, which has been defined as " the combination of psychology and economics that investigates what happens in markets in which some of the agents display human limitations and complications, " attempts to systematically address the limitations of rational actor assumptions. Jolls, Sunstein and Thaler (1998) observe that the " unifying idea in our analysis is that behavioral economics allows us to model and predict behavior relevant to law with the tools of traditional economic analysis, but with more accurate assumptions about human behavior, and more accurate predictions and prescriptions about law. " As the number of exceptions to the assumptions of rationality …

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@inproceedings{Cahn2013BehavioralBT, title={Behavioral Biology, the Rational Actor Model, and the New Feminist Agenda}, author={Naomi R. Cahn}, year={2013} }