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« Big Government As The Employer Of Last Resort | Main | Vernon Smith Prize for the Advancement of Austrian Economics »


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I think economists are more likely to be "selfish" (or at least economics students are). Why? Because the social norm of consideration for others is pretty much taken for granted the more unreflective people are. On the other hand, when we study prisoner's dilemmas and one-period games we learn where abstract rationality leads. If the other person in the game is also an economist, I predict a greater incidence of socially suboptimal outcomes.

I like it when others leave the board unerased. It allows students to see and think about something outside their own class, if they wish. It also gives me the opportunity to raise questions about the topics on the chalkboard.

If anything, I view it as a positive externality.

There's a whole literature on this. Here is Frey and co-author denying the earlier results that studying economics makes you more selfish:

Of course "selfish" here does not have its Randian meaning, which is something like "live by your own values and lights, not those of others."

I know that literature Roger. I was just more interested in whether it applied in this specific case.

Dave - comments on my Facebook page have made the same point. In fact, I made it in the first sentence by recognizing that having a written-on board allows me to talk about negative externalities! That said, I still find it annoying as hell over a whole semester.

I think it may depend on who the other departments are. My econ dept. is in a college of Business, and I suspect that management, marketing, accounting, and finance are even more selfish than the economists in this narrow sense. I certainly run into this problem, although sometimes the miscreants are my department colleagues. Do not get any English or philosophy or physics or others of such ilks in to check on such other alternatives.

On Smith's impartial spectator: how many economists have read The Theory of Moral Sentiments? As a percentage of the profession, it's gotta be very very low.

On the other hand, how many readers of this blog have read it? Raise your hands high.

I agree with Mario. I can imagine some economists leaving it up there and, if challenged, saying, "It's a stupid system. The administration should dock our paychecks if they want us to erase the board. It's self-enforcing if we all have to erase the board once in the beginning."

In fact, I almost convinced myself just now! How do you justify your sucker's equilibrium, Steve?

I didn't know you people had such a hard life.


From what I remember of that article by Frey, it was shown that economics education did not make one more selfish, rather they were selfish to begin with. Not particularly good news either way.

Nice comment by Dave on reading the notes from the previous lecture. A bit like checking out the books left on the library table by the previous reader. Often more interesting than the ones you are supposed to be reading.

As I said on Bob_Murphy's blog, if you want to awaken economists to their externality blind spot, you shouldn't go with small-fry chalkboard rudeness. You should make it so they can't hear themselves think the asinine ideas they try to promote. Like this:

Bob: I simply think it's rude to expect someone else to clean up my messes. I'm not one of Aunty Deirdre's "Prudence Only" economists. :)

Bob is correct. For everyone to erase the previous guy's mess is self-enforcing. This seems to be a case where "our" values are an inappropriate generalization from cases where cleaning one's own mess makes more sense. Steve, you ought to subject your moral sentiments to rational analysis. I am serious.

Just to clarify, everyone, when I was a (visiting) professor I would erase my board, and it would annoy me when the previous guy didn't. Although it was often good material for comic relief in the beginning of the class. ("What the heck are they *teaching* you guys in these other classes?!")

This is how I see this unimportant, and yet so important, issue. If you erase as you leave you will find yourself erasing twice -- when you come in as well. This is because TIME IS IRREVERSIBLE. The person who teaches before you do can't see how nice you are in erasing after you are done because he is before you. Please read The Economics of Time and Ignorance.


How many Zen Buddhists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Two: one to screw in the light bulb and one not to screw in the light bulb.

On this thread I tried earlier to make a humourous comment, well what I thought was a humourous comment. The blog didn't accept it, though I said nothing offensive.

I've noticed that this blog's software has a set of criteria for comments it will and won't accept. For example, if you write a comment where the first few words are the same as a previous comment then it will be rejected.

Are the rules about this displayed anywhere?

What happened Current is that you did the equivalent of invoking Voldemoort. You mentioned the name of someone who was once banned here but has reappeared. Unfortunately, we never updated the comment filter to remove that name from the "reject the comment" list. I will do that now.

There are no rules posted.


Could you tell us how many words have to be the same at the start of a message for it to be rejected as a duplicate?

As far as I know, that is not an automatic reject. I could be wrong.

Well, I'll make a test of this by starting two posts the same way.

Well, I'll make a test of this by starting another post slightly like the one above.

Odd, it works this time. On a previous occasion it wouldn't allow me to post something. Then, I changed a few words at the beginning of the message and it allowed it.

Economists think about removing negative externalities through taxation, but how about in a non-governmental situation where there is no power to tax? This could be an experiment to remove a negative externality without government coercion?

Writing on HIS board before class might work, but if the problem is widespread it won't solve a department or campus wide problem.

How about an email sent from the administration to faculty that chalkboards shall be erased at the end of class? Next, a weekly email listing faculty reported not having erased blackboards for the prior week. A little public exposure might go a long way in getting the faculty to do the right thing.

Also, if faculty are sorted by department you would generate some empirical data on which departments have the greatest offenders and which are impervious to shame and criticism.

"I like it when others leave the board unerased. It allows students to see and think about something outside their own class, if they wish. It also gives me the opportunity to raise questions about the topics on the chalkboard.

"If anything, I view it as a positive externality."

As an econ tutor I sometimes sneak into a history class when there's nobody in there and leave S&D graphs and random thoughts like:

"Governing a large country
"is like frying a small fish.
"You spoil it with too much poking."

Do not get your girls wear a plain white bridesmaid dress on stage in order to avoid distracting.

Well, I'll make a test of this by starting two posts the same way.

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