Symposium Announcement: Behavioral Economics & Classical Liberalism

Cite this Article
Joshua D. Wright, Symposium Announcement: Behavioral Economics & Classical Liberalism, Truth on the Market (October 03, 2006),

Next Friday, October 13th at NYU School of Law, the NYU Journal of Law & Liberty will host a symposium entitled: “Behavioral Economics’ Challenge to the Classical Liberal Program.”  I will be a panelist in the second session, “Libertarian Paternalism and Consumer Contracts,” and am looking forward to it.  I am preparing for this symposium and will post it to SSRN with an announcement here soon.  Here is the symposium announcement and itinerary:


Behavioral economics has made great strides over the past decade in reshaping the way we think about human decisionmaking, rationality, and utility maximization. In turn, behavioral economists’ insights have helped fuel new ways of studying and analyzing law, particularly when it comes to regulating individual behavior. The insights and assumptions of behavioral economics (particularly its substitution of bounded rationality for the neoclassical “rational actor� model) have important implications for every facet of what could be called the classical liberal program (which embraces the notion that human happiness is best achieved by allowing individuals to make preference-maximizing choices). This Symposium seeks to move behavioral law & economics’ challenge to the traditional classical liberal worldview into open debate in practical terms, in the hopes of producing a nuanced picture of the world of individual choice and government regulation. This debate should provide important, balanced introductions to the issues in question for those both inside and outside the academy.

Open to the Public (photo ID required). CLE Credit is available.


The symposium will take place at the New York University School of Law on Friday, October 13, from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Individual panels will last approximately 90 minutes.

Panel Topics

Panel 1 (9:30 – 11:00)
Rehabilitating Rational Choice: The Real-World Robustness of Flaws in Perfect Rationality
Although many deviations from the rational choice model of decisionmaking have been empirically demonstrated in controlled settings, the robustness of these flaws in real-world contexts determines how forcefully they challenge the assumption that individuals will perceive and act in their own best interests. This panel will explore whether and how these flaws provide a basis for altering the rational choice model for macro-level policy decisions.

Claire Hill (University of Minnesota, Law)
Mario Rizzo (NYU, Economics)
Glen Whitman (California State University, Economics)

Panel 2 (11:00 – 12:30)
“Libertarian Paternalism� and Consumer Contracts
Behavioral law & economics presents its starkest challenge to classical liberalism when it suggests that individuals should be protected from their own cognitive biases with paternalistic legislation. Assuming that bounded rationality has a sound empirical basis as a policy model, this panel is designed to explore whether it suggests a new role for the state in guiding and limiting individual discretion. Will taking steps towards insuring more perfect information be sufficient, or is the state justified in limiting the sorts of contracts that corporate actors may solicit, consumers may enter into, and courts may enforce? Can cognitive biases, such as the availability heuristic, and “framing� strategies be used to correct other errors and biases, such as overoptimism—and if so, should they? This panel will explore such questions

Edward Janger (Brooklyn Law School)
Susan Block-Lieb (Fordham University, Law)
J.D. Trout (Loyola University-Chicago, Philosophy)
Joshua Wright (George Mason University, Law)

Lunch Break (12:30 – 2:00)

Panel 3 (2:00 – 3:30)
Debiasing Strategies and Trial Procedures
Nowhere are one’s liberty and property more seriously threatened than within the criminal justice system. The American legal system has safeguarded these liberty and property rights by implementing trial procedures that assume imperfect rationality. Rules limiting the admissibility of prior convictions exclude evidence thought to be too salient in jurors’ assessment of guilt; pretrial discovery procedures can help dampen optimism biases by providing opposing parties and counsel with more complete sets of information. Other proposed innovations based on imperfect rationality, however, are more controversial. This panel will explore whether and how criminal procedure may be altered in response to these biases.

Alafair S. Burke (Hofstra University, Law)
Uzi Segal (Boston College, Economics)
Alex Stein (Cardozo Law School)


Jeffrey A. Benjamin (Executive Articles Editor)

Amie Broder (Editor-in-Chief)