What I Want vs. What I Say I Want

They’re not always the same, and that sometimes drives my husband batty. I tell him I’m not alone, that economists even have a name for this: revealed vs. stated preferences, the former being what our behavior says about what we want (presumably, a more reliable indicator), and the latter, what our words say (not at all reliable). I tell him Bill and Hillary Clinton have this problem, too, and I can’t help it if I want to please him but also don’t feel like eating meatball subs for dinner.

So then he says he believes me, and thanks so much for teaching him a valuable economics lesson. But then he acts kind of different…

Posted in transparency

4 Responses to What I Want vs. What I Say I Want

  1. Jessie K says:

    Thanks for introducing me to a neat new word: The No-bot.

  2. This elegant little theory of revealed preferences fails to account for a stubborn fact of human nature: what we want depends on when we’re doing the wanting. This is called time inconsistency and is illustrated nicely in a study on grocery-buying habits [1]: When buying groceries online for delivery tomorrow people buy a lot more ice cream and a lot fewer vegetables than when they’re ordering for delivery next week. In other words, our preferences are inconsistent — in fact, logically contradictory — over time. Your ability to weigh the costs and benefits (yumminess, healthiness) is severely compromised when some of those costs or benefits are immediate, which is why the ice cream vs vegetables decision plays out so differently when you decide it from a distance.

    But what really clinches the case that people sometimes act against their own true interests is our use of self-binding, also known as commitment devices.

    (That’s an excerpt from an article I wrote about commitment devices. The rest is at http://blog.beeminder.com/akrasia )

    [1] http://www.springerlink.com/content/06655508xl230511/

  3. Alice says:

    You two are amazing.

    Daddy’s gotta eat.

  4. Tony says:


    Stated preference: I like to keep my kitchen neat.

    Revealed preference: I like my spouse to clean up after me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>