Utility of the means

Economists will often look at outcomes and associate values to things based on the outcome. Often other disciplines (namely Sociology and Anthropology) criticise our focus on outcomes, stating that we do not pay enough attention on the means of deriving those outcomes.

A post over at Stackelberg follower (love that blog name) discusses the utility he derives from shopping for a product, even a product that he may not actually buy. This made me think again about the issue of means and outcomes.

I don’t believe that economists forget about the means when describing the payoff from outcomes. The utility gained from receiving a pie (I love pies) by legitimate means will likely exceed the utility from a pie gained by killing someone. I tend to think that the means of getting to a certain point, or consuming a certain product, influences the payoff associated with the consumption of that product.

In the case that the Stackelberg follow guy showed, the consumption choice was to NOT buy the game. It might sound weird, but in that case he choose to not purchase anything and that was still some form of consumption. Now the utility associated with that consumption comes from the direct value of that consumption (having nothing) and the means to that consumption (shopping). Another way of looking at it is to change the idea of what was being consumed. In the Stackelberg follower case he choose to consume shopping rather than consume sit in the park.

As a result, I think the means to an outcome are important. However, economists do not ignore them (like some disciplines think we do) as the means to consumption influences the value of that consumption activity. Ultimately, the pie I brought and the pie I could have potentially killed for are different products, with different values, even if there is no physical difference in the pies.

What do you guys think? (assuming more than one person reads this 😉 )