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July 08, 2008



"Circumstances, then, determine choice". Bollocks - circumstances influence choice. Circumstances constrain choice. How could they not? But "determine" is precisely the wrong word.

Luis Enrique

"Choices depend upon what’s available, not what’s rational" - this sounds like a truism - of course we choose from what's available (which I think is similar to Dearime's reading of 'determines'), but that's not what you mean by 'depend upon'. It's more like, even though precisely the same choice (say, our optimal choice) in different settings (those guys could have chose 50:50 bonds stocks in each case, had they wanted to) is available in each setting, we don't make the same choice in each setting. And, as Thaler & Co show, that's not even because expected payoffs to the 'same choice' vary in different settings, like they do depending on your class.

So okay, we know it's easier to be a good guy when you're well off / grow up in the right environment, and we know it's much easier to achieve good outcomes coming from such a background.

It's much harder to make the 'right' choices when you're poor, but making the 'right' choices is still very important, when the wrong choices include crime etc., both for the sake of the individual and society at large. In which case, shouldn't politician's rhetoric and society's moral norms etc. emphasize the importance of making the 'right' choices, even when you're poor? Considering it's hard enough to make those choices as it is, oughtn't society's norms help make those choices easier to make, by, er, establishing a norm? In contrast to, say, the message that it's okay to make bad choices because you are from a bad background. (I'm not sure about this - thinking aloud)

Also, how do you square your concerns about choices rhetoric with your dislike of paternalism?


Whilst it is true that your envronment/circumstances constrain you, they decidedly do not determine your choice.

My grandparents left school at 13. But they worked hard and kept out of trouble so that my Dad was able to join the RAF as an officer. My wife's grandparents had a similar tale. They had limited opportunities and choices, but they could decide what they wanted to do - within limits of course. They weren't unique or even out of the ordinary. So, whilst I grant it is a lot easier for the likes of the Camerons than ordinary folk, I think ordinary folk would agree with a lot of what Cameron said. And it's a shame that it has to be a Tory that said it.


Good point - another relevant illustrations of what (I think) you mean by "choices depend on what's available":
1) the psychological idea of the "acceptable window". Basically, put a jar of jam on sale for £3 and few people will buy it. Put it on sale with another type at £1 and two more at £4 and £7 and a lot more people will buy it, because their idea of a fair price is derived from the options on offer. That ain't rational - Economic Man should buy the £3 jar or not, regardless of what else is on show. Either he gets £3 worth of utility from jam or he doesn't, and he decides based on that.

Tom P

Ahhh... naive diversification... I love this stuff!

I vaguely remember reading some stuff along the lines that market conditions influence the decisions people make about asset allocation in 401ks, but they don't change them once they set them up. Hence if they start saving in a bear market, and as such decide to put a big % in fixed income, they don't bother shifting when the situation improves. Equally they remain over-exposed to equities when markets dive if that is how they started. Status quo bias?

Richard Thaler is giving a talk at the RSA next week by the way:



You've probably seen this, but in case you haven't:


Snuffy at To Miss With Love (inner-city schoolteacher's blog) on Oxbridge

Bob B

Please remember, whatever readers post, don't mention house prices and the slump in house building - rubbish Presidents Mugabe or Medvedev instead, otherwise it upsets Caroline Flint, the housing minister:

"Savills, one of the biggest property agents in the UK, said that London house prices have fallen by around 7.5 per cent in the first six months of 2008 and forecast 'difficult' times ahead."

"UK housebuilder Persimmon says it has shed about 2,000 jobs since the start of the year, including 1,100 office jobs and 900 site-based jobs."


Wonderful blog Mr. Dillow i have notice of this blog when a friend mine tell me about your witty views about politics and social matters.
When Cameron said these words i was in London. These words are improper of someone who aspires to lve in Whitehall.
Definetely, choices depend on situations, and poor people have less choices than people with more advantageous circunstances.

nancy fernandez

This article is nice but the information available is not enough then only it will be informative.



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