A Handbook of Alternative Theories of Public Economics
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A Handbook of Alternative Theories of Public Economics

Edited by Francesco Forte, Ram Mudambi and Pietro Maria Navarra

This comprehensive and thought-provoking Handbook reviews public sector economics from pluralist perspectives that either complement or reach beyond mainstream views. The book takes a comprehensive interdisciplinary approach, drawing on economic elements in the fields of philosophy, sociology, psychology, history and law.
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Chapter 17: Cognitive dissonance, iron triangle and rent seeking: sequester and the fiscal cliff

Gordon Brady


The psychological literature on cognitive dissonance begins with Festinger (1957), who defined cognitive dissonance as post-decisional discomfort or annoyance that may occur when owing to new information an individual feels that his behavior, due to the new information, is not consistent with his values and beliefs. The increasing interest in cognitive dissonance as an explanation of observed behavior, as a psychological phenomenon is shown in the rate of citation to dissonance theory in the psychological literature (Bagby et al., 1990). But its relevance is less studied from the sociological point of view, particularly in economic sociology. Cognitive dissonance is sociologically relevant because it concerns the relationship of 'pieces' or 'parcels' of new information emerging in the community that change attitudes about previous beliefs, creating a disharmony (dissonance) that produces discomfort and induces one to contradict one's original choice. The degree of cognitive dissonance depends on how the parcels of new information are processed as narratives, and how they fit together to motivate the individual's response to them. A narrative is any account that seeks to present connected events in ways that describe, appeal to, entertain, or persuade people about the sequence and meaning of events. As a story, the narrative may be an accurate portrayal, a fictionalized account, or purely fictional. The change of beliefs due to the new information may be due to false or misleading narratives.

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