A reader writes:
I’m a grad student at Georgetown University, where I’m in the dual masters in public policy/masters in economics program. As part of that program, I took the first year PhD sequence in the econ department. We used the usual texts for micro, macro, and metrics, but we didn’t really talk about behavioral stuff. I’m a recent new reader of your blog and I like your focus on behavioral economics. My time at Georgetown is limited and the department doesn’t seem to have anybody who’s really doing research in that area so I thought I’d email you and see if there were any books or papers that you would recommend. I’m looking for an overview but also something that allows me to read newer papers and understand the context. From the little I know, it seems like it would be perfect for someone like me interested in policy.
First off, you’re right! Behavioral economics is very relevant to policy, since it’s super helpful to understand how real people think about choices involving money, employment, etc. in order to design effective and efficient regulations and tax systems. I assume based on the context that you’ve given me that you want some academic as opposed to general-interest resources.
The text Choices, Values, and Frames is a compilation of the seminal papers in behavioral economics. It doesn’t really include the most recent work in the discipline, but it’s important to understand the history and foundations and then go from there. (You can always look up newer papers on JSTOR or whatnot.)
As a supplement to that, I swiped for you some of the materials that I had in my first behavioral economics course. Now, this was a number of years ago (gah), but these should still be pretty useful. My class was taught by Matt Rabin, who was visiting Harvard from Berkeley that year (and who, by my count, owns a minimum of 27 tie-dyed t-shirts). I’ve posted his syllabus here. Also, Prof. Rabin was nice enough to make lecture handouts for the course- they have some typos and whatnot, but you’ll probably find them helpful.
My missionary work for the day is now complete.