Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Bounded Rationality and Politics

Bounded Rationality and Politics

Jonathan Bendor
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 248
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Bounded Rationality and Politics
    Book Description:

    InBounded Rationality and Politics, Jonathan Bendor considers two schools of behavioral economics-the first guided by Tversky and Kahneman's work on heuristics and biases, which focuses on the mistakes people make in judgment and choice; the second as described by Gerd Gigerenzer's program on fast and frugal heuristics, which emphasizes the effectiveness of simple rules of thumb. Finding each of these radically incomplete, Bendor's illuminating analysis proposes Herbert Simon's pathbreaking work on bounded rationality as a way to reconcile the inconsistencies between the two camps. Bendor shows that Simon's theory turns on the interplay between the cognitive constraints of decision makers and the complexity of their tasks.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94551-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    There are two main orientations toward bounded rationality (BR) in political science. The first orientation sees the glass as half full, emphasizing that decision makers often manage to do “reasonably well”—even in complex tasks—despite their cognitive limitations. Virtually all of Simon’s work and also the theory of “muddling through” (Lindblom 1959; Braybrooke and Lindblom 1963) belong to this branch, which we can call the problem-solving approach. In the second orientation the glass is half empty: the emphasis is on how people make mistakes even in simple tasks. Most of the research on heuristics and biases, following Tversky and...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Herbert A. Simon: Political Scientist
    (pp. 11-47)

    This chapter’s title should end with a question mark. For understandable reasons of professional pride, we political scientists would like to believe that, taken as a statement, this title accurately describes Herbert Simon’s career. But it doesn’t. For the last forty-plus years of his amazingly productive life he was a cognitive scientist. All the evidence, both objective and subjective, points to this conclusion. The vast bulk of his publications from 1960 on were on topics in cognitive science, as even a quick check of his curriculum vitae shows. (A complete bibliography can be found at And it is not...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Satisficing: A Pretty Good Heuristic
    (pp. 48-60)

    Despite the able efforts of peacemakers (Samuels, Stich, and Bishop 2002; Samuels and Stich 2004; Samuels, Stich, and Fuacher 2004) and a fascinating and unusual “adversarial collaboration” (Mellers, Hertwig, and Kahneman 2001), the debate about rationality marches on at a good clip (e.g., Evans and Over 1996; Chase, Hertwig, and Gigerenzer 1998; Stanovich 1999; Stanovich and West 2000; Gigerenzer and Selten 2001; Gilovich and Griffin 2002; Kahneman 2002; Gigerenzer 2004; Hertwig and Todd 2004; Hertwig and Ortmann 2005). A key part of the debate that has emerged over the last decade is the argument between the heuristics-and-biases camp (e.g., Kahneman,...

  8. CHAPTER 4 A Model of Muddling Through
    (pp. 61-92)

    Old theories in political science rarely die; they usually just fade away. This has been incrementalism’s fate. Even in hindsight, this was a curious end to incrementalism’s intellectual trajectory. The basic ideas of “muddling through” were described in extremely well-known publications (Lindblom 1959, 1965; Braybrooke and Lindblom 1963): the 1959 essay has been reprinted in about forty anthologies (see Lindblom 1979, p. 524); the two books are classics. And the theory also received its share of pointed criticisms (e.g., Arrow 1964; Boulding 1964; Dror 1964; Etzioni 1967; Schulman 1975; Goodin andWaldner 1979; Lustick 1980).

    Yet neither Lindblom’s nor his critics...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Perfect Is the Enemy of the Best: Adaptive versus Optimal Organizational Reliability
    (pp. 93-118)

    The study of organizational reliability is characterized by two possibly inconsistent themes.

    (1) Scholars working in this area (Landau 1969; Bendor 1985) usually argue that individual decision makers are imperfectly rational and hence do not optimize when confronted with difficult problems.

    (2) Nevertheless, some scholars also analyze the design of optimally reliable organizational systems (Heimann 1993, pp. 427–28, 434; Heimann 1997, p. 83; Ting 2003).

    There appears, at least at first glance, to be some tension between these two themes. After all, designing high-reliability agencies is a hard problem: on this, both optimists (LaPorte and Consolini 1991) and pessimists...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Garbage Can Theory
    (pp. 119-162)

    Chapters 1 and 2 suggest that the research program of bounded rationality (BR) has two main branches: Simon and Lindblom’s approach, which focuses on how adaptive we can be despite our cognitive constraints; and Kahneman and Tversky’s, which emphasizes how easily we can err even when confronted by simple problems. There are, however, other approaches to decision making that some scholars believe belong to the BR program. Prominent among these is garbage can theory (Cohen, March, and Olsen 1972), hereafter GCT. Although GCT’s links to BR are not completely straightforward, neither are they completely opaque. In particular, the theory’s emphasis...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Institutions and Individuals
    (pp. 163-182)

    Everyone—leaders as well as citizens—is cognitively constrained. Psychologists have been demonstrating this in carefully controlled experiments for decades. To take one prominent example, the field of human memory has examined this theme intensively. (For an excellent introduction to what is known about memory errors, see Schachter 2002.) So the only serious questions for political science and public policy analysis are how these constraints affect variables that concern us directly: political behavior, the utility that citizens get from policies, and so forth. On this point, evidence has been growing for several decades (e.g., Jervis 1976; Kinder 1998; Tetlock 2005)...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 183-206)
  13. References
    (pp. 207-224)
  14. Index
    (pp. 225-230)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 231-231)