Thinking Economics

Thinking Economics

Most human behaviour can be viewed through an economic lens to identify trends, patterns, biases and misconceptions. This column assesses Nigerian behaviour by applying Economics to behaviour and behaviour to Economics.


Counterfactual Thinking: Nigeria's Voter Regret

Chuba Ezekwesili

Chuba Ezekwesili

Chuba is an Economist, Data analyst, and the co-founder of Future Africa - which invests in African startups

If I had more time to study, I would’ve passed this test; if I had more money, she would’ve stayed; if Goodluck Jonathan had won the elections, Nigeria would have been fine.

We ask ourselves these sort of questions every day. Also known as counterfactuals, these are alternate scenarios we draw on that give us an idea of how things would have turned out if we made a different decision or took a different path. They are the constant "What if?" scenarios that keep us restlessly awake at night. 


Ceteris Paribus?

Counterfactuals are great. By discovering a different way things could have been, they show us what to do differently and serve as a valuable learning experience. For example, if you had a bad interview experience and then realise it would have gone better if you had been more confident, you'd probably respond more confidently in the future.  

But counterfactuals also trip us up. They do so when we take our counterfactual outcomes as facts and not just assumptions. Are you sure you would have passed that exam if you had more time to study? Did your girlfriend really leave you just because you weren't wealthy? We can never be sure about the answer to these questions. 

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