Thursday, June 03, 2010

Rational Consumer? Pah!

In economics, there's this concept called the rational consumer. Basically, it states that all economic agents (people) are rational and will do what's best for them, or, at the very least, what they think is best for them. This concept scales up to groups of people and corporations. In fact, this very idea was at the heart of Alan Greenspan's behavior as the economy heated up and the real estate market became quite obviously over-heated. He assumed that banks would never drive themselves to ruin, at least not in large numbers. He has admitted that he was wrong.

But even outside of such grand economic examples, we find other areas where the rational entity just doesn't seem to fucking exist! Exhibit A: Wal-Mart. Wally World was aware of widespread gender discrimination in 1995, and was warned about their exposure to a possible lawsuit. For six years, they did nothing. Nada. Squat. Then, shocker, in 2001, just such a lawsuit was filed!

It really makes you wonder. Is this theory completely off base? Does the rational consumer actually not exist? Because remember, this aspect of classic economic theory assumes that nearly everyone is rational, and only very few are irrational. I'm beginning to think that it's the opposite.

Report Warned Wal-Mart of Risks Before Bias Suit (New York Times)

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