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Nikolaus Robalino and Arthur Robson

Modern economic theory rests on the basic assumption that agents’ choices are guided by preferences. The question of where such preferences might have come from has traditionally been ignored or viewed agnostically. The biological approach to economic behavior addresses the issue of the origins of economic preferences explicitly. This approach assumes that economic preferences are shaped by the forces of natural selection. For example, an important theoretical insight delivered thus far by this approach is that individuals ought to be more risk averse to aggregate than to idiosyncratic risk. Additionally the approach has delivered an evolutionary basis for hedonic and adaptive utility and an evolutionary rationale for “theory of mind.” Related empirical work has studied the evolution of time preferences, loss aversion, and explored the deep evolutionary determinants of long-run economic development.


Jacob K. Goeree, Philippos Louis, and Jingjing Zhang

Majority voting is the predominant mechanism for collective decision making. It is used in a broad range of applications, spanning from national referenda to small group decision making. It is simple, transparent, and induces voters to vote sincerely. However, it is increasingly recognized that it has some weaknesses. First of all, majority voting may lead to inefficient outcomes. This happens because it does not allow voters to express the intensity of their preferences. As a result, an indifferent majority may win over an intense minority. In addition, majority voting suffers from the “tyranny of the majority,” i.e., the risk of repeatedly excluding minority groups from representation. A final drawback is the “winner-take-all” nature of majority voting, i.e., it offers no compensation for losing voters. Economists have recently proposed various alternative mechanisms that aim to produce more efficient and more equitable outcomes. These can be classified into three different approaches. With storable votes, voters allocate a budget of votes across several issues. Under vote trading, voters can exchange votes for money. Under linear voting or quadratic voting, voters can buy votes at a linear or quadratic cost respectively. The properties of different alternative mechanisms can be characterized using theoretical modeling and game theoretic analysis. Lab experiments are used to test theoretical predictions and evaluate their fitness for actual use in applications. Overall, these alternative mechanisms hold the promise to improve on majority voting but have their own shortcomings. Additional theoretical analysis and empirical testing is needed to produce a mechanism that robustly delivers efficient and equitable outcomes.