Public Choice

, Volume 180, Issue 1–2, pp 11–25 | Cite as

Reapplying behavioral symmetry: public choice and choice architecture

  • Michael David ThomasEmail author


New justifications for government intervention based on behavioral psychology rely on a behavioral asymmetry between expert policymakers and market participants. Public choice theory applied the behavioral symmetry assumption to policy making in order to illustrate how special interests corrupt the suppositions of benevolence on the part of policy makers. Cognitive problems associated with market choices have been used to argue for even more intervention. If behavioral symmetry is applied to the experts and not just to market participants, problems with this approach to public policy formation become clear. Manipulation, cognitive capture, and expert bias are among the problems associated with a behavioral theory of market failure. The application of behavioral symmetry to the expanding role of choice architecture will help to limit the bias in behavioral policy. Since experts are also subject to cognitive failures, policy must include an evaluation of expert error. Like the rent-seeking literature before it, a theory of cognitive capture points out the systematic problems with a theory of asymmetry between policy experts and citizens when it comes to policy making.


Experts Behavioral symmetry Behavioral policy Policy failure 

JEL Classification

H10 H23 H39 H77 



The author would like to thank Anthony Gill, Edward Lopez, William F. Shughart, II, Diana W. Thomas, and the participants of the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech’s graduate brown bag workshop, in particular Ben Powell, for their helpful comments on a draft of this paper. The usual caveat applies.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Economics and Finance, Heider College of BusinessCreighton UniversityOmahaUSA

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