Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification

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9780674707573: Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification
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Preference falsification, according to the economist Timur Kuran, is the act of misrepresenting one's wants under perceived social pressures. It happens frequently in everyday life, such as when we tell the host of a dinner party that we are enjoying the food when we actually find it bland. In "Private Truths, Public Lies" Kuran argues that the phenomenon not only is ubiquitous but has huge social and political consequences. Drawing on diverse intellectual traditions, including those rooted in economics, psychology, sociology and political science, Kuran provides a unified theory of how preference falsification shapes collective decisions, orients structural change, sustains social stability, distorts human knowledge and conceals political possibilities. A common effect of preference falsification is the preservation of widely disliked structures. Another is the conferment of an aura of stability on structures vulnerable to sudden collapse. When the support of a policy, tradition or regime is largely contrived, a minor event may activate a bandwagon that generates massive yet unanticipated change. In distorting public opinion, preference falsification also corrupts public discourse and, hence, human knowledge. So structures held in place by preference falsification may, if the condition lasts long enough, achieve increasingly genuine acceptance. The book demonstrates how human knowledge and social structures co-evolve in complex and imperfectly predictable ways, without any guarantee of social efficiency. "Private Truths, Public Lies" uses its theoretical argument to illuminate an array of puzzling social phenomena. They include the unexpected fall of communism, the paucity, until recently, of open opposition to affirmative action in the United States, and the durability of the beliefs that have sustained India's caste system.

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[E]normously subtle...[Kuran's] exposition of 'preference falsification' is the most original work of social science I have read for many a long year. The term and concept have innumerable applications and deserve to enter the language...The conclusion Kuran reaches is a powerful one which is at odds with most social science and indeed everyday thought about our ability to understand or forecast social change...The text is entirely lucid and the theme is of the utmost importance.--Eric Jones "Quadrant (Australian Review of Ideas) "

About the Author:

Timur Kuran is Professor of Economics and King Faisal Professor of Islamic Thought and Culture at the University of Southern California.

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9780674707580: Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification

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ISBN 10:  0674707583 ISBN 13:  9780674707580
Publisher: Harvard University Press, 1997
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