Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification
Preference falsification, according to the economist Timur Kuran, is the act of misrepresenting one's wants under perceived social pressures. It happens frequently in everyday life, such as when we tell the host of a dinner party that we are enjoying the food when we actually find it bland. In Private Truths, Public Lies Kuran argues convincingly that the phenomenon not only is ubiquitous but has huge social and political consequences. Drawing on diverse intellectual traditions, including those rooted in economics, psychology, sociology, and political science, Kuran provides a unified theory of how preference falsification shapes collective decisions, orients structural change, sustains social stability, distorts human knowledge, and conceals political possibilities.
A common effect of preference falsification is the preservation of widely disliked structures. Another is the conferment of an aura of stability on structures vulnerable to sudden collapse. When the support of a policy, tradition, or regime is largely contrived, a minor event may activate a bandwagon that generates massive yet unanticipated change.
In distorting public opinion, preference falsification also corrupts public discourse and, hence, human knowledge. So structures held in place by preference falsification may, if the condition lasts long enough, achieve increasingly genuine acceptance. The book demonstrates how human knowledge and social structures co-evolve in complex and imperfectly predictable ways, without any guarantee of social efficiency.
Private Truths, Public Lies uses its theoretical argument to illuminate an array of puzzling social phenomena. They include the unexpected fall of communism, the paucity, until recently, of open opposition to affirmative action in the United States, and the durability of the beliefs that have sustained India's caste system.
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Each new person on this upward bandwagon induces additional people to climb
on, until the entire population is on board.12 A slightly lower initial expectation,
59 instead of 61, would produce a dramatically different outcome. Fewer than 59
With heterogeneous decision makers, a bandwagon can keep rolling as long as
the changes in social pressure induced by new riders impel at least one
additional person to jump on. There is no reason, of course, why the bandwagon
show appreciable differences, there are many people to surprise; and a message
that surprises the right people at the right time can activate _ a bandwagon that
changes public opinion dramatically. Once a bandwagon gets under way, ...
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The Obstinacy of Communism
The Ominous Perseverance of the Caste System
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