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#### rated by 0 users This post has 2 verified answers | 36 Replies | 8 Followers

297 Posts
Points 6,880
Josiah Schmidt posted on Mon, Sep 29 2008 11:33 PM

I was in my "Urban Economics" class today, and my professor said that game theory disproves Adam Smith's notion that competing firms are necessarily more efficient than cooperating firms or firms that are kept from competing.

He gave the example of the matrix with four possibilities.  The subject was the upkeep of properties in a neighborhood.  One possibility is that all of your neighbors keep up their properties well, and you keep up your property well too.  The second possibility is that all of your neighbors keep up their properties well, and you don't at all.  The third possibility is that you keep up your property well, but none of your neighbors do.  The fourth possibility is that no one keeps up their property.  He assigned a value of 100 to Possibility 1.  He assigned a value of 110 to Possibility 2, because you get the benefit of the high property value of that neighborhood without having to put in the work on your own property.  He assigned a property of -10 to Possibility 3, because you're putting in all this work on your own property, but because your neighbors don't give a crap about their properties, the property value of the neighborhood sucks.  He assigned a property of 0 to Possibility 4, because the property value of the neighborhood still sucks, but you're not wasting all this time and energy trying to keep up your property.

My prof then said that because of this, it shows that the free market doesn't generate the best outcome a lot of the time, since you have the freerider problem, and if you know how those around you are going to act, you can play them to your own benefit.

He also gave the example of the A Beautiful Mind scene where John Nash and his 2 friends are out drinking when 4 girls come into the bar, 3 of them being good-looking and 1 of them being exceptionally beautiful.  If John Nash and his 2 buddies all went over to the girls' table to compete for the best-looking one, the less-attractive friends would be offended and would make the best-looking one feel bad about leaving.  So he decided they should not compete with each other and each settle for less than what he really wants, so each guy gets something rather than nothing.

And therefore this disproves pure free market competition being the best system?

Can anyone give me a simplified version of the Austrian take on this?

"Anticapitalist theories share in common an inability to take human nature as it is. Rather than analyzing man as a complex creature, anticapitalist theories tend to focus on what the theorist wishes man to be." - Isaac Morehouse

91 Posts
Points 1,375
corpus delicti replied on Tue, Sep 30 2008 7:38 AM
Verified by Josiah Schmidt

I think the true answer would be that there is no simplified Austrian version. The freerider problem or the tradegy of the commons are usually explained as a lack of properly understood property rights, i.e. you have no property right in the value of you property, since this is a subjective measure based on the valuation of prospective buyers or at least appraisal agencies. Nor do you have any positive right to coerce the non-upkeeper to suddenly be an upkeeper. So where is the problem? or rather, why would you even begin to contemplate the maximization of total property value?

That would be the simplified natural rights "austrian" version. If we move on to the utilitarian "austrian" version, well, then the question remains open, i.e. more fishy

I wouldn't be able to represent this view properly, however, so I'd better end it at that.

• | Post Points: 25
139 Posts
Points 2,970
Magnus replied on Tue, Sep 30 2008 7:41 PM
Verified by Josiah Schmidt

Hoppe makes some exellent points in the article Jon was refering to in a previous post.

1. There is no clear distinction between which goods are public and which are private. From page 3 "All goods are more or less private or public and can- and constantly do- change with respect to their degree of privetness/publicness as people's values and evaluations change, and as changes occur in the compositions of the population"

2. Historical evidence shows that all goods that the public goods theorists clame only can be produced by government have been produced privately (roads, security, courts, postal service, etc.)

3. In order to prove that the state is needed to supply a public good, one would have to make a normative assumption. The assumption is according to Hoppe; "Whenever one can somehow prove that the production of a particular good or service has a positive effect on someone else but would not be produced at all or would not be produced in a definite quantity or quality unless certain people participated in its financing, then the use of aggressive violence against these persons is allowed, either directly or indirectly with the help of the state, and these persons may be forced to share in the necessary finacial burden." This obviously wouldn't be much of a ethical norm...

4. The value of a public good would still be relatively lower then the competing private goods the consumer would buy unless forced to pay for the public good. Therefore, even if the so called public good is valuble what your professor forgott to mention is that there might be other even more valuable goods the consumer would spend his money on given a choice.

• | Post Points: 40

#### All Replies

881 Posts
Points 15,030
banned replied on Mon, Sep 29 2008 11:57 PM

What I learned from your professor: If humanity were a hivemind it would function more efficiently.

• | Post Points: 5
178 Posts
Points 2,440
nameless replied on Tue, Sep 30 2008 2:15 AM

It seems like the first example is more of one of collectivisation.  No one's actually competing to get the higher property value for themself in this case, but rather a higher property value for everyone in general.  If I'm interpreting this correctly in this case, then either your professor apparently can't tell the difference between Marxism and capitalism and is unqualified to teach, or it's something far more sinister and he is unqualified to teach.

As for the second example, I suppose that the analogy isn't parallel because the girls aren't exactly searching for guys.  If they were, they'd be competing with each other for the three men.  Or, we could think of this as a situation analogous to a monopsony, where there is only one [de facto] buyer.  So this situation isn't really analgous to the free market at all.

In any case, I'm new to this game so if I'm wrong, blame the Marxists.

• | Post Points: 5
264 Posts
Points 4,630
Grant replied on Tue, Sep 30 2008 5:11 AM
Suggested by eliotn

Yup, this is called a prisoner's dilemma, tragedy of the commons, public goods problem, externality, collective action problem, etc. Take your pick, there are a million terms for it. Understand externalities, and you'll understand them all. Wikipedia's articles are good.

However, you can go back to your prof and tell him that markets do in fact provide in the cases he quotes. As Coase showed, when transaction costs are low, each actor can easily negotiate with the others to deal with the externality. The vast majority of externalities are delt with on voluntary basises, either through transaction (negotiation) or outright ownership of the "commons" (or a weird mix thereof; think of neighborhood associations).

The real problem comes when there are many actors, transaction costs can be huge. The atmosphere is a prime example of this. Its a commons whether we want it to be or not.

In theory, government could cheaply take care of these commons problems because it doesn't have to negotiate with each individual. Unfortunately, public choice shows us that good government is in fact a "commons" in itself, so it really can't be relied upon to do anything helpful in most cases. However, most economists don't deal with the problem of bad government, instead looking at possible policies that can fix commons problems. I tend to think that democratic governments can do the really obvious things without a lot of incompetence (I don't have much to complain about the local roads, for example) but expecting them to effeciently solve public goods problems is very unrealistic, IMO.

Adam Smith wasn't "disproved" any more than Newton was. His ideas were simply a special case of a larger world of economics.

• | Post Points: 20
91 Posts
Points 1,375
corpus delicti replied on Tue, Sep 30 2008 7:12 AM

Well, to be honest I wouldn't really care too much about Adam Smith being proven wrong. It wouldn't be the first time. However, I must acknowledge the fact that to the mainstream Adam Smith somehow equals, or implies, division of labour, comparative advantage, competition amongst individuals, companies and nations, the invisible hand, anti-thrust etc.; in short, all one come to think about when mentioning the classical liberal notion of the "Free Market". As a result, if Adam Smith is somehow challenged the mainstream suddenly thinks everything about the "Free Market" must be discarded; and so deconstruction begins! Thus, to prevent your professor to enlist any more into this lost cause, I will give it a shot at salvaging Mr. Smith's reputation.

First off, I think I will try to employ the Iron Man Fallacy, although I never came to understand why it should be a fallacy. It is the act of strengthening your opponents claim, in the present case, Game Theory. I you haven't already I would encourage you to look up Robert Axelrod, Tit for tat or, better yet, Richard Dawkin's "Nice Guys Finish First" (YouTube, Wikipedia). As we can gather from this, Game Theory, in the long run, gives us insight into how Man, in a state of nature, comes to prosper when meeting a like-minded kinsman. In my mind this illuminates the explanatory strength Game Theory can have. However, we must always remember that the strength of a theory is not the amount of scientific fields it can span, but its greater applicability in one field compared to another.

Now, having strengthened the case for Game Theory somewhat, I will move on to your professor's two cases.

Case I: In this case his solution space is not contained in any meaningful sense. What is the extent of a neighborhood? Also, what about Possibility 5: Some neighbors keep up their property? Possibility 6: Some neighbors do not keep up? How then would the individual strategies be? To be honest, the more I think about it, I do not even understand what he is trying to prove in this case. If it is just a cumbersome way to explain that each owner would enjoy short-term benefits from "defecting", well then so be it, but this disregards precisely the reason why people choose to cooperate. Why wouldn't the other upkeepers do something about it in cooperation? They are not blind are they? And now we arrive at the best means to do this? How do the upkeepers find the best way to increase their total property value with fewest possible costs?

• The answer: Competition amongst competing means!

Case II: Here I could just mirror my comments to Case I, but instead I will just mention one strategy that seems to be considered a good one (don't know if it is the best of course, since I know of no market, per se, in these matters):

In closing, Game Theory has moved on. It explains how cooperation does indeed arise amongst individuals, not that it lacks amongst individuals. Why should it be different when considering companies? Game theory does not explain this from an altruistic perspective, but from a "self-ish" perspective. In my mind, strengthening the case for Game Theory only affirms Adam Smith. John Nash also errored in thinking people wouldn't choose to cooperate. For instance, look up Adam Curtis' "The Trap" (YouTube, Wikipedia) - Just remember to cut through some of the crap about Friedrich von Hayek

Enjoy!

564 Posts
Points 8,455
Paul replied on Tue, Sep 30 2008 7:24 AM

corpus delicti:

I know of no market, per say, in these matters

I've seen this several times lately - it's "per se", not "per say", FWIW

• | Post Points: 20
91 Posts
Points 1,375
corpus delicti replied on Tue, Sep 30 2008 7:38 AM
Verified by Josiah Schmidt

I think the true answer would be that there is no simplified Austrian version. The freerider problem or the tradegy of the commons are usually explained as a lack of properly understood property rights, i.e. you have no property right in the value of you property, since this is a subjective measure based on the valuation of prospective buyers or at least appraisal agencies. Nor do you have any positive right to coerce the non-upkeeper to suddenly be an upkeeper. So where is the problem? or rather, why would you even begin to contemplate the maximization of total property value?

That would be the simplified natural rights "austrian" version. If we move on to the utilitarian "austrian" version, well, then the question remains open, i.e. more fishy

I wouldn't be able to represent this view properly, however, so I'd better end it at that.

• | Post Points: 25
91 Posts
Points 1,375
corpus delicti replied on Tue, Sep 30 2008 7:43 AM

Paul:

corpus delicti:

I know of no market, per say, in these matters

I've seen this several times lately - it's "per se", not "per say", FWIW

I might be the perpetrator in many of these cases. FWIW to you, it is worth it to me, so thank you Paul for making me aware of it.

• | Post Points: 5
5,255 Posts
Points 80,815

Jon Irenicus replied on Tue, Sep 30 2008 10:06 AM

Why do professors repeat this crap, as if it's actually true, and not a veil for their own biases? Hoppe deconstructed this "problem" in his article on "public goods". Actors can always choose to resolve the problem via negotiation. If that does not work, tough luck; all it demonstrates is that some do not prefer to take this route. But your prof is free to be a fascist and force them to, contrary to their own demonstrated preferences. Who knew that the real world is a little more complex than what interventionist professors think it is?

-Jon

Freedom of markets is positively correlated with the degree of evolution in any society...

• | Post Points: 20
264 Posts
Points 4,630
Grant replied on Tue, Sep 30 2008 6:04 PM

Jon Irenicus:
Actors can always choose to resolve the problem via negotiation. If that does not work, tough luck; all it demonstrates is that some do not prefer to take this route.

The prof will say it also does not work if the cost of negotiating is too high, and he'd be correct.

• | Post Points: 20
5,255 Posts
Points 80,815

Jon Irenicus replied on Tue, Sep 30 2008 6:18 PM

And?

-Jon

Freedom of markets is positively correlated with the degree of evolution in any society...

• | Post Points: 20
264 Posts
Points 4,630
Grant replied on Tue, Sep 30 2008 6:49 PM

Jon Irenicus:
And?

...and thats all I had to say ;)

• | Post Points: 20
5,255 Posts
Points 80,815

Jon Irenicus replied on Tue, Sep 30 2008 6:54 PM
Suggested by Grant

He'd be correct that transaction costs might be too high for it to be worth the while (i.e. individuals would prefer not to undertake the action), which is what I meant by "if that does not work".

-Jon

Freedom of markets is positively correlated with the degree of evolution in any society...

• | Post Points: 5
3,011 Posts
Points 47,070
Knight_of_BAAWA replied on Tue, Sep 30 2008 6:56 PM

Your prof's nonsense is also an example of the nirvana fallacy.

• | Post Points: 5
139 Posts
Points 2,970
Magnus replied on Tue, Sep 30 2008 7:41 PM
Verified by Josiah Schmidt

Hoppe makes some exellent points in the article Jon was refering to in a previous post.

1. There is no clear distinction between which goods are public and which are private. From page 3 "All goods are more or less private or public and can- and constantly do- change with respect to their degree of privetness/publicness as people's values and evaluations change, and as changes occur in the compositions of the population"

2. Historical evidence shows that all goods that the public goods theorists clame only can be produced by government have been produced privately (roads, security, courts, postal service, etc.)

3. In order to prove that the state is needed to supply a public good, one would have to make a normative assumption. The assumption is according to Hoppe; "Whenever one can somehow prove that the production of a particular good or service has a positive effect on someone else but would not be produced at all or would not be produced in a definite quantity or quality unless certain people participated in its financing, then the use of aggressive violence against these persons is allowed, either directly or indirectly with the help of the state, and these persons may be forced to share in the necessary finacial burden." This obviously wouldn't be much of a ethical norm...

4. The value of a public good would still be relatively lower then the competing private goods the consumer would buy unless forced to pay for the public good. Therefore, even if the so called public good is valuble what your professor forgott to mention is that there might be other even more valuable goods the consumer would spend his money on given a choice.

• | Post Points: 40
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