Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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It’s All About the Frame

On the plane to San Francisco on Monday morning I finally got around to reading “The Marketplace of Perceptions” from Harvard Magazine. It’s all about behavioral economics, a field I can’t help but be fascinated by. It’s basically the place that economics/finance meets my marketing/cultural studies world. The big point of it is that “the ways in which alternatives are framed — not simply their relative value — heavily influence the decisions people make.” Of course they do. Seems obvious, but in a world where it was long believed that people acted in their best interest at all times, this must have been, and still is, a hard one to swallow.

What was most interesting about the article, however, wasn’t overly finance-centric. Rather, it discussed the political implications of the idea of framing.

We have had 30 years of deregulation in the United States, freeing up markets to work their magic. “Is that generally welfare-enhancing, or not?� Wanner asks. “Framing can call that into question. Everyone agrees that there’s informational asymmetry—so we have laws that ensure drugs are tested, and truth-in-advertising laws. Still, there are subtle things about framing choices that are deceptive, though not inaccurate. We have the power of markets, but they are places where naive participants lose money. How do we manage markets so that the framing problem can be acknowledged and controlled? It’s an essential question in a time of rising inequality, when the well-educated are doing better and the poorly educated doing worse.�

I think that’s a really big point. I tried a couple times to explain why, but it wasn’t coming out right so I decided to just throw the quote out there and see if anyone else bites.

April 27, 2006