Richard Epstein on The Dangerous Allure of Behavioral Economics: The Relationship between Physical and Financial Products
Few academic publications have had as much direct public influence on the law as the 2008 article by my NYU colleague Oren Bar-Gill and then Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren. In “Making Credit Safer,” they seek to combine two strands of academic thought in support of one great cause—more regulation of financial markets. They start with the central claim of behavioral economics that sophisticated entrepreneurs are able to take advantage of the systematic foibles of ordinary people, by rigging their products in ways that work systematically to their own advantage. By plying ordinary individuals will carefully packaged payment contracts, firms can undercut the central postulate of rational choice economics that all voluntary transactions produce mutual gains for the parties. In its stead we get the wreckage of families and fortunes brought about by unscrupulous bankers in search of a buck. Warren and Bar-Gill repeatedly talk about the importance of empirical evidence. Her own work, however, is exceptionally shoddy, as Todd Zywicki has recently pointed out in the Wall Street Journal.