13 October 2009

Ostrom and the fake nobel

I think this gets trotted out every time the Nobel for economics gets presented to someone who isn't considered "an Economist", with the capital E, by the field. Nash had the same complaints, from basically the opposite direction (that he was too mathematical rather than the theoretical or applied research that Ostrom does/did). More or less, economic theorists should have little trouble embracing the applications and research into the applications of Coase theory. Even if it's more a political science venture or an application of game theory than raw economic theory (like Real Business Cycle or the Efficient Markets Theory), so what? Virtually everything out there has economic applications or implications because virtually every decision we make has either financial consequences or involves a distribution of our limited resources. It's as pervasive to the study of human beings as a study of our processing of oxygen molecules. Of course there's always this wisdom to consider on their field of study: "If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion."

Anyway, I am not surprised that simple rules between or within communities will often trump enforced rules from without. The difficulty is that we have a system which is setup now to enforce rules from without rather than to create them naturally or internally and a population which tends to demand such arbitrary rules rather than seek accommodation and balance. There are simple clear positions which do need such enforcement, but these are, on balance, signals of individual autonomy such as basic civil liberties. Which individuals could then use to create binding agreements with their foes and friends in arrangements of their choice or prospective leanings in the form of ideology and demeanor.

In other words, you can certainly use free speech to say something controversial. But you must also understand that others will align themselves either for or against it in social pressures. Sometimes their reactions will be categorically silly and unproductive (the Whole Foods boycott), and other times they may be of note and use (the social pressure in support of DADT is no longer a majority position). People need to be free to consume these opinions and take their measure, argue for or against, and find them lacking in order to ultimately discard them. The trouble is not that some people hold controversial opinions. It is that nobody will call them for often making them unsupported by reasoned arguments or real and factual citations.
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