You have tickets for a basketball game in a city 45 minutes from your home. But the star is not going to play, nothing hangs on the outcome and it's raining hard. Suppose you paid $100 for the tickets. Would you go to the game or stay home?
A municipal hospital in your area is obsolete. The city can build a replacement or it can remodel the old one, which was extremely expensive to construct. The quality and the cost would be about the same either way. Which course would you choose?
A hot new restaurant is getting phenomenal reviews. You wait three hours for a table. But when your beef stroganoff arrives, it's flavorless, and you realize you're not that hungry. Do you finish your plate?
If you're like most people, you probably feel that $100 is just too much money to throw away, and you should therefore attend the game. Likewise, you vote to remodel the old hospital, because building a new one seems profligate. And you eat every bite of that bland entree, because you invested so much time in your meal.
An economist would do none of these things.
If you think like an economist, you tell yourself: "The rest of my life begins now. What happened in the past is irrelevant."
Read the full article "Do you think like an economist?" at the Los Angeles Times.
Richard Nisbett is a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and the author of "Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking."