Bounded Rationality in Compulsive Consumption

Ingo Fiedler


The standard microeconomic assumption is that consumers’ choices maximize consumers’ utility. This theoretical article challenges this assumption by presenting a framework of an extreme case: compulsive consumption. Backed by a wide range of existing empirical evidence it is shown by the example of pathological gamblers that some consumers (1) have inconsistent preferences, (2) underestimate the time horizon and the frequency of consumption, and (3) underestimate the costs and overestimate the benefits of consumption.

The results do not necessarily violate rational choice theory if interpreted as intra-personal externalities. By applying the perspective of picoeconomics, it is possible to reconcile fully rational but competing agents within an individual with inconsistent aggregate decisions. Yet, from a welfare perspective, the results imply that bounded rationality can be interpreted as a source of inefficiency and can thus constitute a rationale for regulatory intervention.

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