Searching for Irrationality

October 21, 2008

Oh no! Like the latest fashion, like a spreading disease, Behavioral Economics is starting to win me over. A recent post at Overcoming Bias has the scoop (quoting an interview with Rose George, author of a recent book on human waste disposal):

In Benin, Africa, some very interesting research was done into what would make people buy a latrine. Mothers, who didn’t have a latrine, could see that their kids were getting sick every week with diarrhea. They were spending money on medicine, and their kids weren’t going to school, but they still wouldn’t buy a latrine. An academic named Mimi Jenkins discovered that the biggest incentive for someone to buy a latrine in Benin was to feel royal, because the royal family had one. It was a question of pride and status, it wasn’t about health.

Score one for the Thomas-Dan Ariely axis. Apparently “all the cool kids are doing it,” is an effective argument for adults, too.

The policy implications don’t follow directly, and I’d maintain that coercion is morally unjustified even when people are making irrational decisions, but this is a sobering case study of irrationality in action.

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One Response to “Searching for Irrationality”

  1. tripinchina Says:

    I’m happy for the shout out and glad that you may me warming up to the idea of behavioral econ.

    On the other hand, it took an article about latrines in Benin? Really? That is some topic, boy howdy.


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