Of rational and rationalizing actors

rationalization hamsterA central foundation of economics as a field is the rational actor. Homo Econonomicus as it is called is an abstraction that makes much of economic theory possible, through the assumption that humans logically weigh options, utilizing concepts such as marginal utility, taking into account sunk costs and opportunity costs, and countless other principles that together construct the theoretical framework of economics. The homo economicus has no preferences, no bias, make no flaws in their logic and has perfect information. The interesting part of this is that marketing (a sub-field of economics) and economics are at odds, because if humans truly were rational actors, then marketing should have little value outside of being the source of the perfect information. However, if we take a look at marketing, it becomes clear that in marketing informing is a means to an end, the end being persuasion and influence. The model used in economics is one of needs and wants, where a need is a biological urge that needs to be sated and a want is the preferred manner in sating that urge. For instance, thirst is a need, preferring green tea is a want. If the human in question was a rational actor, the way to make such a decision was to weigh all the drink choices, and then make a choice based on the relative merits of each beverage option. These merits could include such categories as flavor preferences, health benefits, health detriments and so on, and thereafter a choice could be made. Continue reading

Of means and ends

Immanuel_Kant_(painted_portrait)I often use the terms “means” and “ends” in my writing, this is a concept that I borrowed from a formulation of the categorical imperative by Immanuel Kant, which is as follows:

Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” Immanuel Kant (Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals)

In Kant’s formulation, he is stating that in order to treat people in a humane and ethical manner, you must view the interaction with their person as a goal in itself, not merely as a method to achieve a goal. I touched on this in my post on means, motive and opportunity, which is a breakdown of the three different concepts and these are complimentary and overlapping principles. Means is the equivalent in both cases, and the result of the combination of means, motive and opportunity results in the end. You can never have an end without a method to achieve that end, a motivation for achieving that end and the opportunity to pursue that end. However, a major stumbling block many people face is that they become preoccupied with creating means, without taking the opportunity when it presents itself.

“I will go for that promotion once I have another year of experience and finish my night classes”

“I will go after this women I’m lusting after once I read another 4 books on game”

“I will renew my wardrobe once I lose another 15 lbs”

In all the above scenarios the person is putting off action, and taking risks under the guise of “not being ready” in essence they are creating creating a situation whereby failing to achieve one goal, will result in failing another goal as well. Put in another way, they are telling themselves “I will neglect to take opportunities presented to me until I have achieved another end“. I’m a major proponent of sequential-tasking and parallel tasking, however, if you line up your life as a series of milestones, with hard dependencies, you will not be capable of achieving maximum results in a time-frame. Continue reading