Wolpert, Julian. 1964. The decision process in a spatial context. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 54 (4/December): 537-558.


The main argument in Julian Wolpert’s article “The Decision Process in Spatial Context” is that alongside classical normative theory, the behavioral concepts and generalizations must come into existence so as to address relevant man’s economic behavior extended to “the spatial dimension” (p. 537). This behavioral concepts and generalizations rested upon “the existence of an omniscient and single-directed rational being, such as Economic Man…The normative one who has a single profit goal, omniscient powers of perception, reasoning, and computation, and is blessed with perfect predictive abilities” (p. 537). Wolpert made a study of Middle Sweden’s farmer and put forth the concept of Economic Man to demonstrate that the decision process has a spatial dimension in order to achieve optimum productivity.

Wolpert focuses on rational decision making, by ensuring the optimum productivity from a given set of resources within the spatial dimension. He writes “The overall objective is to be able to substitute a workable spatial and behavioral model of the decision process for the untenable structure of classical theory” (p. 539). He compares a farmer with the industrial manager and argues that the farmers should be wise enough to decide how his land, labor, and capital will be used, what will be the crop-livestock combinations, the investments in machinery, and the other operating necessities. Therefore, “his goals with respect to income may vary anywhere from mere survival to optimization” (p. 539) and decision making varies “dispersed spatially” (p. 538). The farmers ‘decision behavior also depends upon the weather, consciousness to profit and security, competition, costs and technology, and knowledge of future events. “All farmers are faced with similar problems but actual decisions vary because farmers have different goals, different levels of knowledge, and vary in their aversion to risk and uncertainty. These differences and variations have a spatial dimension and are not randomly distributed among the population” (p. 538). Wolpert advocates on Economic Man, who has the same supply of resources but is equipped with the necessary knowledge and foreknowledge to achieve his goal of optimization. He then argues that the goal of the economic man is determined by the profit motive, optimization is dependent upon the knowledge he acquired and the rational decision is still altered by the environment of uncertainty.

Wolpert then formulates the concept of linear programming and make an analysis for seventeen representative farm situations, and values interpolated for the remaining farms of a systematic sub-sample through regression estimation. Linear programming permits “simultaneous consideration of many possible alternative organizational plans, specify the most profitable plan consistent with available resources and the input-output relationships for the alternative enterprises” (p. 541).  He concludes saying that “The decision behavior reflects not objective alternatives which are available…man’s awareness of these alternatives and the consequences of their outcomes, his degree of aversion to risk and uncertainty, and his system of values” (p. 557). For Wolpert, the important thing is the rational decision behavior of the Economic man is determined by different factors, the importance of which is the spatial context.

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