rationality

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A ‘rational’ guide to voting at an election

This article forms part of an ongoing series looking at economic issues as Australia heads into the Federal Election. More coverage can be found on the Election 2013 page of ESSA’s website.

The application of economic principles to election voting is a relatively simple process. A completely rational individual would simply vote for the political party that would best enhance their personal utility. If everyone did this, in theory at least, the party whose vision and policies best represented the country would win at an election.

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To gym, or not to gym

It is no startling revelation that people of the modern age are larger than their counterparts from only a few decades ago, and I’m not talking vertically. Cutely chubby, big-boned, and pleasantly plump – there is certainly no shortage of terms we use to describe the surge of our waist sizes and pot bellies.

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The irrationality of the ‘rationality’ assumption

Historically, the term ‘rationality’ has been ascribed various meanings within the sphere of economics.  Typically, rationality has been expressed in terms of the idea that consumers attempt to maximise utility by arriving at an optimal decision in light of a complete set of information relating to the market in which they operate.

That is, the rational person of neoclassical economics opts for the decision that is subjectively best for that person in terms of a given utility function.[1] Consequently, neoclassical reasoning relies heavily on artificial factual assumptions such as perfect information, rather than accepting the reality of limited information and cognitive capacity in making any given decision.[2]

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The Rational Fare Evader

Fare evading, i.e. not paying for the use of public transport, is a fairly significant issue for public transport providers. The Victorian Transport Authority has been tracking the estimated number of commuters who regularly fare evade and as you can see there is a sizeable portion who do this on a regular basis, ranging from roughly 5% to 20% of Victorian commuters (fig 1). There are potentially many causes for fare evading: I had the misfortune of forgetting to touch on to a crowded tram the other day which resulted in a discussion about these causes. This eventually led to the quip “if you get caught – just fare evade until you break even!”

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