Behavioral Economics and Deficient Willpower: Searching for Akrasia
24 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2016
Date Written: February 12, 2016
Behavioral economists point to deficient willpower as one of the causes of breakdowns in decisionmaking processes. Individuals, it is claimed, know their optimal course of action but sometimes are unable to implement it because they lack sufficient motivation. This paper demonstrates that the presence of deficient willpower is very difficult to ascertain empirically. There are many phenomena that, consistent with a broad notion of rationality, must be isolated before deficient willpower can be identified. Philosophers have conceptually identified many of them. Behavioral economists, on the other hand, have not been rigorous in their conceptualization of willpower and therefore are unable to identify clear cases of deficiency. Furthermore, the empirical knowledge required of the behavioral economist to identify willpower deficiency are greater than can be satisfied in a public policy context. Therefore, deficient willpower is a poor explanation of behavior and attempts to ameliorate it are inappropriate for public policy.
Keywords: weakness of will, willpower, bounded rationality, irrationality, new paternalism, behavioral economics
JEL Classification: A12, B41, D60, D63
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation