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Saturday, July 04, 2009

Homer Economicus

by Calculated Risk on 7/04/2009 08:32:00 PM

This piece "Mortgages Made Simpler" by Richard Thaler, is a discussion of the proposed Obama Administration regulatory requirement that lenders offer consumers "plain vanilla" mortgages. From the Treasury regulatory reform proposals (page 66):

We propose that the regulator be authorized to define standards for “plain vanilla” products that are simpler and have straightforward pricing. The CFPA should be authorized to require all providers and intermediaries to offer these products prominently, alongside whatever other lawful products they choose to offer.
I found the following description amusing:
Traditional economics is based on imaginary creatures sometimes referred to as “Homo economicus.” I call them Econs for short. Econs are amazingly smart and are free of emotion, distraction or self-control problems. Think Mr. Spock from “Star Trek.”

Real people are not Econs. Real people have trouble balancing their checkbooks, much less calculating how much they need to save for retirement; they sometimes binge on food, drink or high-definition televisions. They are more like Homer Simpson than Mr. Spock. Call them Homer economicus if you like, or just Humans. Behavioral economics is the study of Humans in markets.

Designing policies for Econs is pretty straightforward. Because they are smart consumers and make good choices, the best policies give them as many choices as possible and simply assure that they have access to all the relevant information.

Humans, however, can use a bit more help, especially when the options are hard to understand.
I like the idea that all consumers be offered a "plain vanilla" mortgage option, and also that many of the non-traditional mortgage products come with warning labels.

Of course most CR readers are probably "Homo economicus" and are free to opt out.