Towards a Multi-Disciplinary Approach
Edited by Amitava Krishna Dutt and Benjamin Radcliff
Chapter 5: Happiness when Temptation Overwhelms Willpower
Alois Stutzer1 INTRODUCTION 5.1 Saint Anthony of Egypt was tempted by the devil, who appeared in the guise of a monk offering Anthony bread while he was fasting. Anthony overcame the temptation and pursued his long-term plans. As mere mortals we sometimes lack the willpower to withstand the seductions of window displays, to curb our hunger for salty and fatty titbits, to control anti-social emotions and so on. Accordingly, some of us end up obese, addicted to drugs, indebted, with poor job market outcomes or with unsuccessful relationships. Independently of whether the involved behavior is perceived morally condemnable, it is often understood to reduce individuals’ welfare. But how do we know that some choices are suboptimal according to people’s own evaluation? On what foundation do we judge whether people make mistakes? Addressing these questions is highly relevant for public policy if the goal is to understand environments that make people best off. If some choices are suboptimal, conditions can be searched for that make these mistakes less likely. The scientific analysis of suboptimal choices is not an easy task though. The rational choice perspective in traditional economic theory is purely equipped to offer guidance in studying systematic errors in consumption choice. According to its basic view, individuals know what they choose. They are able to predict costs and benefits of pursuing some activity or consuming some good now and in the future. After people have chosen some options, these options are implemented without problems. The preferred course of action can...