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Political Economy

Rational Choice

Overview

Types of Economies

As different academic fields, political science and economics utilize different research methods and techniques of analysis. The study of political economy brings together these diverse methods and techniques. One of the most prominent examples of this interdisciplinary blending is rational choice theory. Scholars use rational choice, a model derived from economics, to understand people and behavior. According to this view, humans act to maximize their outcomes—that is, to get the most benefit and profit from their actions. To this end, people make decisions rationally based on whatever information they can get. To put it crudely, people act in a selfish manner, using reason to get what they want.

Rational choice defines reason in a very specific way: Humans use reason to get what they want. But this is not the only way of defining the term, and this definition of reason applies only to a narrow range of study and behavior. Economists and political scientists do not assume that people always act this way. Rational choice only looks at certain types of human behavior and decision-making, but this model has become very influential in political science. The rational choice approach has been adopted to explain a great variety of behaviors—from how members of Congress act in their home districts to how individuals decide to join (or not join) interest groups.

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