Brilliant though the title is, it is not, alas, original, as most will realize. No, this gem is from A.K. Sen, the famous Indian thinker. And most people would agree with the sentiment - no-one makes their decisions based on a quick cost-benefit analysis. So you dont go for breakfast to the diner that's the best economic decision for you, you go to the one you prefer, sometimes justifying afterwards that "They have a great deal on pancakes here". If you were economically rational, you would probably never do anything voluntarily, not engage in sports or activities (that could actually damage your economic potential).
Even the big decisions of your life - buying a car, a house, what sort of job you wish to do - none of these are economically rational decisions. I would argue that some people are a bit more rational than others, but we decide on what house to buy, what car to buy and what job to do on various, and varying parameters of desire, prejudice, fun, belief and status. Its an old discussion, but most academics I know would be three to four times better off if they had pursued a career in private business. To try to answer why they do not do so, the mistake that is made most frequently is to try and generalise the answer: "They dont because......"
What does worry me however, is that although economic theorists of the Chicago School are utterly wrong, they have simultaneously shaped our society, an this may, ironically, lead to them being right. Despite that there is no such thing as "human nature" the influence of culture is massive, and these guys believe in human nature. Most of our Western culture for the last thirty years, has had at its core the bizarre philosophies of these economic rationalists. So a view of Darwinism that it somehow also applies to human societies (a version of Whig history) and view of individuals as "competitive" and primarily economic, and a preposterous positioning of economics as a science with theories to explain all of this, has shaped our culture. People now talk about the 'value' of an education, almost purely economically. RHB aksed me tentatively last week, how I thought it would be received if she gave a talk to prospective University students and mentioned that the advantages of University were not just that you could get a better job at the end.
People talk about social capital. I know that this notion is not as simple as common usage has made it seem, but at the heart of social capital is an attempt to discover the "value" inherent in relationahips. Ironically, it was a Marxist sociologist who popularised social capital, trying to understand the strengths that exist in communities apart from economic ties or relationships of blood or obligation, trying to define the value of unseen things like friendship, community mindedness, philanthropy, altruism. There are two problems with this - first of all Marxism, and secondly sociology: Marxism because of the predominance of economic determinism in its ranks, and sociology because as a discipline it does'nt think about what its doing sometimes.
In the case of social capital, sociology "gave the ball away" (to use a footballing term), and has provided neo-liberal Governments with a concept that they have decided is measurable in order to inform and enforce their policies. So in the UK, annual surveys ask people about their perceptions of racism, crime, neighbourly behaviours, altruism and friendliness. This all gets poured into a big computing machine and the results tell us how much "social capital" there is in a neighbourhood. The results are interesting, if only that they tell us more about statistics than about people.