Economics Working Papers

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This paper examines how attribute substitution (AS), central to the psychology of choice and behavioral economic reasoning, can be understood when combined with counterfactual thinking (CFT), often called ‘what if’ or ‘if only’ thinking, and how their combination creates important opportunities for the seeing heterodox economics as a single research program alternative to mainstream economics. The first section of the paper discusses AS, CFT, and what a AS-CFT behavioral framework involves, and then emphasizes how this framework departs from fundamental assumptions mainstream rational choice theory employs. The second section reviews the foundations of behavioral thinking regarding AS, describes what it involves when it includes attention to CFT, distinguishes between more automatic and more reflective types of behavioral adjustment. It notes that heterodox economics has generally emphasized ecological rationality and bounded rationality in its use of AS. The third section then discusses how six prominent heterodox approaches can each be understood to draw on this combination of AS and CFT, and how this represents common ground for a shared critique of the mainstream economic approach. What distinguishes them is how they differ regarding the weight and emphasis placed on more automatic versus more reflective types of behavioral adjustment. The fourth section argues that within this shared framework these different heterodox approaches practice a division of labor in how they address different aspects of economic life understood in behavioral and counterfactual terms.

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