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robirahman comments on Are wireheads happy? - Less Wrong

108 Post author: Yvain 01 January 2010 04:41PM

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Comment author: robirahman 02 May 2016 08:47:57PM 0 points [-]

This summarizes a common strain of thought in economics, the idea of "revealed preferences". People tend to say they like a lot of things, like family or the environment or a friendly workplace. Many of the same people who say these things then go and ignore their families, pollute, and take high-paying but stressful jobs. The traditional economic explanation is that the people's actions reveal their true preferences, and that all the talk about caring about family and the environment is just stuff people say to look good and gain status.

I think you are mischaracterizing the concept of revealed preference. It's not that they claim to care about family or the environment "just for status", but rather, they exaggerate how much they care about one thing relative to another. For example, when I was overweight, I used to say stuff like "I want to be skinny". But I'd keep eating junk food anyway. The reality was that I wanted to eat junk food more than I wanted to be healthy. (Maybe not long-term: hyperbolic discounting can explain this, since people over-weight rewards that come sooner, so even people who will pick an apple instead of a cookie for tomorrow's lunch might be tempted enough to eat the cookie when the choice is right in front of them.) Nowadays, I enjoy being healthy more than I enjoy the taste of ice cream, so I can convince myself to stop eating it if I think about the downsides.