Richard Robb, Willful: How We Choose What We Do (Yale University Press: 2019)
Reviewed for Choice Magazine
Ronald F. White, PhD
The history of philosophy is rife with works that address the old distinction between freedom and determinism of human thought and/or human action. Classical/Neoclassical economists embrace “rational choice theory” in order to explain, predict, and/or control consumer behavior. While this new book does not seek to disprove rational choice theory, it does seek to add another dimension, which we might call, irrational (or non-rational) choice theory. Thus, Robb reduces human action to two categories: rational “purposeful acts” that are performed in anticipation of pleasurable consequence in the near/distant future;” and irrational and/or non-rational acts that are performed because they are (or appear to be) “good for themselves.” If that sounds familiar, it does harken back to the old philosophical distinction between “extrinsic” and “intrinsic” value. Although this book is well-written and rife with interesting examples, and perspectives, it does reflect state-of-the-art research. The most egregious research omissions include reference recent books by: Cass R. Sunstein on social and political “influence;” and. Mark van Vugt on “biological and cultural evolution.” Despite, it’s obvious scholarly deficiencies, it is rife with interesting examples and puzzles that might inspire other economists to take into account more rigorous, interdisciplinary approaches to understanding consumer behavior.