Contradictions between expressed and revealed preferences

As speakers at conferences, commentators quoted in articles, and respondents to surveys, law department lawyers convey their preferences. Those expressed preferences, however, may not translate into practice. Hypocrisy is too strong a term, but often there is a failure to walk the talk, a gap between espoused values and acted values.

Economists favor the term “revealed preference” (that is, preference revealed by behavior) as a more reliable expression of a belief (See my post of Feb. 7, 2006 on perceived behavior.) than expressed preferences, and they look for ways to spot what people actually do, as compared to what they say they do. For example, surveys would have us believe that in-house dissatisfaction with law firms is rampant. Revealed preferences, however, exist, such as data on consistent use over time of the same primary law firms, and belie those survey responses.

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