structured procrastination

A couple of articles in Slate caught my eye this last few days. Tim Harford, whose Slate output I prefer to the agony uncle column he does for the FT, discusses the behavioural economics of temptation. Ho hum (I speak as a boring macro guy), except for the tidbit that Ned Phelps discovered hyperbolic discounting back in the 60s.

Second is a piece on various ways to shed the pounds, from gastric balloons to intestinal condoms. What struck me here was the very absence of any ‘behavioural economics’ solution, and the dependence on technological fixes.

I imagine that one day soon there’ll be a technological fix for the brain. Not a mere appetite supressant, but a more general solution to willpower-related problems. Take a pill, turn into a steely-eyed Lance Armstrong: dedicated, impervious to distraction and with a low discount rate. Would this be a good thing?

I suppose it depends upon whether, as things stand, good guys are more or less likely to have weak wills than bad guys. If Yeats is right and the ‘best’ currently lack all conviction, then bring on the willpower drug. But what if we instead end up with a populace of highly-driven, goal-oriented miscreants? Answer me that, Batman.

[The title for this post comes fom here. This guy seems to have (re-)discovered behavioural economics before the recent boomlet, and has a novel solution to hyperbolic discounting: play off against it another character flaw, namely the propensity for self-deception. Ingenious. I encourage you to buy the t-shirt. Tomorrow.]


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