I find that George Ainslie uses the term picoeconomics to describe the study of the interaction of components of a mind in individual behavior and decision-making. Microeconomics is, in some sense, the study of the interactions of individuals in determining economic behavior. Picoeconomics is an analysis on an even smaller scale. I also found a website for this subject1.
By the way, picoeconomics is not necessarily a non-mainstream field of economics. For example, Glen Weyl (2009), a very young mainstream economist trained at some of the most prestigious economics departments in the United States, adopts a model of an agent as a community. He uses this model to examine political individualism. If a community cannot have group rights and cannot have an unique ordering of choices2, how can an individual have such rights when he may be just as divided in mind as a community?
One criticism of mainstream economists relates to their treatment of the literature. A mainstream economist can ignore long-established analytical tools to treat their subject, introduce some related analysis into orthodox models in an ad-hoc way, and never reference the previously-existing heterodox literature. I do not feel I have enough understanding of picoeconomics to say whether this criticism applies to mainstream and non-mainstream contributions to the field3.
- 1 Is this Ainslie's website? I could not quickly find a name associated with the site?
- 2 See the Arrow impossibility theorem.
- 3 I'm not even sure I know the field boundaries. My blogs posts on divided minds build on some literature by Amartya Sen. Some recent papers from Nadeem Naqvi and others build on later literature from Sen. They analyze agent decision-making, but, as I understand it, do not model the mind as composed of subagents. Does this literature fall within picoeconomics?
- George Ainslie (1992) Picoeconomics: The Strategic Interaction of Successive Motivation States within the Person, Cambridge University Press. (I haven't read this.)
- George Ainslie (2001) "Breakdown of Will" , Cambridge University Press. (I haven't read this.)
- G. Ainslie (October 2005) "Précis of Breakdown of Will" Behav. Brain Sci., V. 28, N. 5: 650-673.
- Arian Berdellima and Nadeem Naqvi (2011) "Existence of a Pareto optimal social interaction with with non-binary preferences".
- E. Glen Weyl (May 2009) "Whose rights? A critique of individual agency as the basis of rights" Politics, Philosophy & Economics, V. 8, N. 2: 139-171.