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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 convincingly that the phenomenon not only is ubiquitous but has huge social and political consequences. Drawing on diverse intellectual traditions, including those rooted in ...

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Overview

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 convincingly 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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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Kuran (economics, Islamic studies, U. of Southern CA) explores the phenomena of misrepresenting one's wants under social pressure and its social and political consequences, drawing on fields including economics, psychology, sociology, and political science. He discusses effects of preference falsification such as the preservation of widely disliked structures and the corruption of public discourse, and examines the fall of communism and India's caste system as examples. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674707573
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/1998
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.41 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.36 (d)

Meet the Author

Timur Kuran is Professor of Economics and Political Science & Gorter Family Professor of Islamic Studies, Duke University

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Table of Contents

Preface
1 The Significance of Preference Falsification 3
2 Private and Public Preferences 22
3 Private Opinion, Public Opinion 45
4 The Dynamics of Public Opinion 60
5 Institutional Sources of Preference Falsification 84
6 Collective Conservatism 105
7 The Obstinacy of Communism 118
8 The Ominous Perseverance of the Caste System 128
9 The Unwanted Spread of Affirmative Action 137
10 Public Discourse and Private Knowledge 157
11 The Unthinkable and the Unthought 176
12 The Caste Ethic of Submission 196
13 The Blind Spots of Communism 205
14 The Unfading Specter of White Racism 222
15 Unforeseen Political Revolutions 247
16 The Fall of Communism and Other Sudden Overturns 261
17 The Hidden Complexities of Social Evolution 289
18 From Slavery to Affirmative Action 310
19 Preference Falsification and Social Analysis 326
Notes 351
Index 409
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