On the Limited Policy Relevance of Evolutionary Explanations

Forthcoming, Behavioral Public Policy

12 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2022

See all articles by Cass R. Sunstein

Cass R. Sunstein

Harvard Law School; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: January 7, 2022

Abstract

Evolutionary explanations for behavioral findings are often both fascinating and plausible. But even so, they do not establish that people are acting rationally, that they are not making mistakes, or that their decisions are promoting their welfare. For example, present bias, optimistic overconfidence, and use of the availability heuristic can produce terrible mistakes and serious welfare losses, and this is so even if they have evolutionary foundations. There might well be evolutionary explanations for certain kinds of in-group favoritism, and also for certain male attitudes and actions toward women, and also for human mistreatment of and cruelty toward nonhuman animals. But those explanations would not justify anything at all. It is not clear that in Darwinia (a nation in which departures from perfect rationality have an evolutionary explanation), policymakers should behave very differently from in Durkheimia (a nation in which departures from perfect rationality have a cultural explanation).

Keywords: Present bias, optimistic overconfidence, behavioral economics, availability heuristic, reciprocity, evolutionary explanations

JEL Classification: D9, D91

Suggested Citation

Sunstein, Cass R., On the Limited Policy Relevance of Evolutionary Explanations (January 7, 2022). Forthcoming, Behavioral Public Policy, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4003339 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4003339

Cass R. Sunstein (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts Ave
Areeda Hall 225
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-2291 (Phone)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
465
Abstract Views
2,709
rank
85,392
PlumX Metrics