What is Performativity in Economics?

The theory of performativity suggests that financial or economic models are not merely measuring an aspect of reality but instead, assist in shaping this aspect of reality into what the model portrays. This is the idea that economic theory doesn’t just define how the world is, but is able to influence the world and, in doing so, help make the economic system and the actors within it — appear more similar to the theories themselves.

Understanding Performativity

Performativity broadly refers to the social phenomenon that occurs when an utterance, inscription model and so on. has the ability to impact the world it is attempting to describe. The philosopher of language J. L. Austin came up with the idea of this concept within the framework of an “performative expression” to distinguish words which perform something in comparison to those that describe an existing situation. 1


The words that alter or change the way in which the world operates. For instance, “I now pronounce you husband and wife” when spoken by anordained priest changes “bride” as well as “groom” to “husband” or “wife,” not only symbolically, but also in actual. This social reality manifests by the acceptance of religious and cultural norms as well as the way in which law enforcement agencies treat people as well as changes to the tax system and household finances to mention some.

If an economic model that describes something like effectiveness of the market or the method of pricing an asset is released to the market and is able to alter the structures of those models in order for the market to adjust to follow the model rather than it merely portraying the market. Sociologist and economist Donald MacKenzie proposes three manners of economic performance. MacKenzie calls the strongest and most intriguing kind “Barnesian” (after his mentor, the socioologist and technologist Barry Barnes). 2. 2: In Barnesian performance “the actual application of one aspect of economics creates economic processes that are more similar to the ones portrayed in economics.”

This is in stark contrast to the theories scientists in the field of natural science develop. The formulas used in Newtonian physics doesn’t have any significant effect on the nature of gravity’s effects on huge objects and neither does the extensive application of thermodynamic laws affect any real-world measurement of the entropy. Economics (as as well as various social sciences) differs in the sense that the thing it “measures” isn’t existent beyond the social realm–there’s no economy worth studying without a person making consumption, borrowing, or investing.


Evidence of Performance

A well-studied case the concept of economic models that has become operational could be one of them being the black-scholes-merton (BSM) model for pricing options contracts that streamlined the derivatives market in Chicago when it was first introduced by traders during the 1970s as well as the the 1980s.

With this particular equation, which was calculated through computer servers and recorded on the basis of “theoretical” rates on sheets of paper as well as terminals, option traders were able to transform out what was essentially an educated guesswork in pricing and trading options to the calculative arbitrageurs who bought up options contracts in cases where they were priced too low , and selling them when they were priced too high. The market itself for options grew to continuously meet the costs “revealed” in the equation. According to MacKenzie claims, “financial economics…did more than analyse markets, it also altered the way they functioned.” This implies that models of economics and finance are able to alter markets on a scale of the structural.


Another example of performativity has been observed in the development of market auctions (e.g. through for instance, by the FCC to auction bandwidth rights from television broadcasters to phone companies) to look like intelligent and productive and rational auctions.


Though performativity argues that the pervasive use of an economic model can influence the world to appear more like the theory itself over time, the opposite concept of counterperformativity argues that the use of a model instead makes the world appear less like the theory would predict.


Although this might seem contradictory however, there are several examples. One of these is the ubiquitous usage of modern portfolio theory (MPT) among the passive index investing strategies. MPT utilizes a mean-variance-optimization method to determine an optimal ” efficient” portfolio for investors that maximizes their expected return , based on the risk tolerance of their. This results in an investment portfolio that has the best combination of asset class allocation weights.

The model supposes that markets function efficiently and, as a consequence doesn’t take into account the value of assets Instead, it tells you how much of your portfolio needs to be invested in what types of assets (e.g. 40% stocks from the United States 25 percent foreign stocks and corporate bonds, with 25 and 10 percent Treasuries). An investor who follows MPT simply purchases the index-based mutual fund or exchange-traded funds (ETF) representing those asset classes at a market prices. However, in the scenario where allin the market is following the guidelines of MPT there is no one left to decide on the prices of the components of these indexes, and markets are inefficient because of a lack of price information.


A second example of counterperformativity is the use of behavioral economics to “nudge” people to make more rational influence behavior to make for optimal outcomes. According to the theories that is based on behavioral economics humans are not rational, but are prone to making a variety of mistakes that are based on emotional and cognitive mistakes and biases. These psychological flaws can be found in loss aversion and time-inconsistent preference anchoring, and the endowment effect, in addition to various other issues.

Recognizing these mistakes and the application of corrective nudges based on the research of behavioral economics can help individuals make better decisions and attain more rational results. The widespread usage of behavioral economics as a method to discipline or nudge people causes people to appear less like what the models of behavioral economics (and rather more in line with mainstream economic models that suppose that rational actors make predictions).