Preface [chapter]

2011 Anthropology, Economics, and Choice  
During 2008-2009 the world's economy was mired in a terrible recession. As nations struggled with rising unemployment, failing businesses, massive deficits, and plummeting stock prices, their angry residents wondered what had caused these problems and how they might be resolved. Economists were often in the news during this time. Some commentators blamed economists for promoting policies that led up to the crisis; others looked to them for predictions about what might happen next. Prominent
more » ... omists wrote books and columns analyzing the recession and proposing paths to recovery. When most economists offer explanations of events such as the global recession of 2008-2009, they are guided by their discipline's ideas about how individuals and groups allocate scarce resources. Many are influenced by rational choice theory, which assumes that such decisions are made by well-informed, intelligent people who consciously or subconsciously weigh the risks, costs, and benefits of alternative actions. Yet we all know that decision makers are often muddled about what they want, confused about the possible costs and benefits of different choices, and uncertain about what the future might bring. Economic anthropology is a small subfield of a discipline that is much less influential than mainstream economics. Nonetheless, the heterodox views of economic anthropologists present an important, iconoclastic challenge to conventional ways of looking at choice. These scholars think that theories based on rational choice rely too much on elaborate mathematical models that make dubious assumptions about a limited set of variables and pay too little attention to the context and complexities of real-world decisions. Most economic anthropologists analyzing decision making emphasize how historical changes, cultural norms, and socioeco-
doi:10.7560/726765-001 fatcat:2p2xkrysrrcstlobjfmltz6rxq