By Peter Clark

As economist Thomas Schelling astutely points out in his paper Egonomics or the Art of Self-Management (1978), people are often conflicted in their decision-making by current satisfaction and long-term goals. Since these goals are contrary, it is almost like two different people exist within the same person, the present and future version of ourselves. Both variants of the same person have stratified along a temporal chain of life events influencing the current decision-maker. The current version of ourselves can only anticipate but not fully know what our future self would prefer. We can only do the best we can to contend with potential future wants and current desires.

Since we are navigating the clashing wants and needs of our future versions of ourselves with our current self, this seems to resemble an intrapersonal collective action problem. Traditionally economists have viewed collective action problems in the context of political decision-making. An individual is vying between current wants and future goals; in their decision-making, there is a potential for both sets of objectives to be at odds. A person is then suspectable to be indecisive or making concessions that find a middle ground (intrapersonal logrolling) between current and future aspirations.


This idea brings to my mind Adam Smith's idea of an "impartial spectator"--specifically, does Smith's impartial spectator suffer from the same intrapersonal and intertemporal collective action problem as our ordinary selves do!

F.E. Guerra-Pujol · 1 Nov, 2021

That's an interesting question. The "impartial spectator" could be perceived as the collective norms and values of a society, considering Smith asserted socialization is how we learn our morals. In many ways, Smith's impartial spectator is a decentralized amalgamation of a culture's beliefs regarding moral conduct.

Peter Clark · 1 Nov, 2021

I think you are correct about Adam Smith and about the impartial spectator; also, to the extent our societal values can come into conflict (e.g. one should keep one's promises but what if the promise itself is to perform an immoral or unethical act), then we truly have a collective action problem in that people will disagree about what the proper or moral course of action is any given case.

F.E. Guerra-Pujol · 2 Nov, 2021
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Peter Clark



Published: 31 Oct, 2021

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