My research is motivated by the belief that a better understanding of choice and welfare as the outcome of a dynamic interplay between individual agency and its socioeconomic environment can provide valuable insights into the institutional prerequisites for consumer and citizen sovereignty.
My work is inspired by findings in behavioral economics which casts doubt on the assumption that people’s preferences are state-independent and well-defined. Individuals often have trouble evaluating their own preferences or their preferences are endogenous to the situational and social context of their actions. Experiments show that individuals change their preferences based on normatively irrelevant or problematic factors, such as framing or conformity cascades. Moreover, longitudinal studies indicate that people form their preferences based on past experiences or a reevaluation of future outcomes. Both the erratic and the intentional preference change cannot easily be explained by standard economic models that put all the explanatory power for behavioral change on relative prices and income.
In my PhD thesis entitled Non-Standard Preferences, Welfare, and Public Policy (defended in January 2018), I discuss the implications of these findings for welfare economic analysis. In light of inconsistent or changing preferences, I argue that it is challenging for the economist to infer theoretically coherent statements from choice data about the exact determinants of individual welfare. I argue that behavioral economics – and the public policy derived from it – should be less concerned with the identification and satisfaction of static preferences (i.e., the outcome-oriented analysis of decision-making) and focus instead upon the conditions under which people’s preferences dynamically evolve (i.e., the procedural perspective of decision-making). Based on my dissertation work, I published three articles in peer-reviewed journals
“Jumping the Queue: An Experiment on Procedural Preferences” (published in Games and Economic Behavior)
“Back to Buchanan? Explorations of Welfare and Subjectivism in Behavioral Economics” (published in the Journal of Economic Methodology)
“Toward A Behavioral Foundation of Normative Economics” (published in the Review of Behavioral Economics)
In current and future projects, I endeavor to deepen my work on preference change. So far, the economic toolbox has provided limited means to systematically explain and categorize different classes of preference change (e.g., intentional vs. erratic; temporal vs. permanent; belief-based vs. value-based). How do people rationalize these preference changes? Do they change their minds gradually (in settings with new information) or suddenly (in “come‐to‐God” moments)? Can temporary changes in conditions have permanent effects on preferences? In which cases are evolving preferences welfare-enhancing? Research on these question open behavioral economics to the psychological (cognitive dissonance), biological (fitness qua adaptability), and philosophical (agency and notions of the self) literature.
Possible applications are habit formation, cultural conditioning of tastes and values, or motivated beliefs and group identities. Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments and JS Mill's On Libery are rich sources that help put current behavioral economic findings in a broader philosophical context. By combining experimental studies with Smith’s and Mill's thoughts on the power of social rules, consumption interdependencies, or intrapersonal deliberation, my future work aims to explain various qualities and causes of preference change.