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Beyond market behavior: Evolved cognition and folk political economic beliefs

Andrews, Talbot MDelton, Andrew W.  Behavioral and Brain Sciences; New York Vol. 41,  (2018). DOI:10.1017/S0140525X18000262

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In their path-breaking target article, Boyer & Petersen (B&P) lay out a theory of folk-economic beliefs. Primarily, their focus is on prototypical market transactions, linking evolved psychological abilities to beliefs about the processes and outcomes of immense numbers of freely transacting and exchanging people. Within a prototypical economic market, the choices of many anonymous and interchangeable people and firms determine the quantities and prices of goods and services. But the market is not the only mechanism through which resources are allocated. As future researchers build on the target article's insights, we would encourage them to study not just economic beliefs, but also political economic beliefs. Political economy focuses on the logic of group decision-making, power, and authority – notions not captured in the concept of a laissez-faire market (Mueller 2003). When political leaders change regulatory policies or when citizens vote in a referendum to enact a new law, citizens' pocketbooks are affected – though clearly not through the operation of market transactions. Folk political economic beliefs, we propose, can also be understood within B&P's evolutionary–cognitive framework.

Take, for example, their own discussion of emporiophobia. Just as humans are not adapted to large-scale transaction markets, they are not adapted to large-scale decentralized political systems. Unlike in small hunter-gatherer societies, where leaders are typically known directly by their subordinates, in modern nation states reliable data about potential leaders is difficult to find. Furthermore, citizens receive little usable feedback on whether or not their judgments are right (Kuklinski & Quirk 2000). Often this means citizens rely on cues that are inappropriate in the modern environment when selecting candidates, such as cues of physical strength (Riggio & Riggio 2010). Like agents in the free market, policy makers in the modern environment are impersonal and difficult to identify, as they act as individuals nested within legislative bodies and bureaucracies. These...