The Political Economy of Dissonance

16 Pages Posted: 26 Jun 2015

See all articles by Gordon L. Brady

Gordon L. Brady

Sweet Briar College

J. R. Clark

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

William L. Davis

University of Tennessee, Martin - Department of Economics

Date Written: January 27, 1993

Abstract

Cognitive dissonance is defined as the psychological discomfort or annoyance that may exist when an individual’s choice is not consistent with his values and beliefs. Dissonance may cause an individual to reconsider his values and beliefs, enter new choices with different parameters, respond to the constraints imposed, or change his individual preference function. This paper extends Festinger’s (1957) theory of cognitive dissonance to the work of public choice theorists and seeks to explain the incentives of the iron triangle to foment and quell dissonance. Examples are provided for specific environmental and health and safety risks. Akerlof and Dickens (1983) used cognitive dissonance to justify public sector intervention as necessary to correct what they perceived as a market failure in the choice of safety equipment by workers in hazardous industries. Unlike Akerlof and Dickens (1983), we argue that the concept of cognitive dissonance is applicable to the analysis of public sector decisions giving rise to government failure as well as private decisions involving possible market failure. This paper views the public sector as a market-like arrangement in which dissonance may be produced and exchanged like any other commodity. Cognitive dissonance provides a useful framework for examining individual choice and also expands our understanding of the unseen elements of rent-seeking.

Suggested Citation

Brady, Gordon L. and Clark, Jeff R. and Davis, William L., The Political Economy of Dissonance (January 27, 1993). Public Choice, No. 82, 1995. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2622662

Gordon L. Brady

Sweet Briar College

United States

Jeff R. Clark (Contact Author)

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga ( email )

Department of Economics
Suite 313 Fletcher Hall
Chattanooga, TN 37403-2598
United States

William L. Davis

University of Tennessee, Martin - Department of Economics ( email )

554 University Street
Martin, TN 38238
United States

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