Friday, July 25, 2008

Thinking about Vengeance

Over time, economists have been trying to answer questions that revolve around incentives. The research has started to expand into many fields, and answer questions that go far beyond monetary policy. I know, what’s more exciting than monetary policy? But, hold on.

The further economists probe into the questions of incentives for wine choices, dating, crime, and other non-monetary venues, the more hatred is spewed upon them from other academic fields. Psychologists, ecologists, biologists…take your pick, and no matter how hard an economist has tried to garner them as co-writers, the hate will spew forth.

The man whom I predict will receive the latest in inter-academic wrath will be Naci H. Mocan, who has just released a working paper regarding vengeance. He writes in the abstract that:

Females, older people, working people, people who live in high-crime areas of their country and people who are at the bottom 50% of their country's income distribution are more vengeful. The intensity of vengeful feelings dies off gradually over time. The findings suggest that vengeful feelings of people are subdued as a country develops economically and becomes more stable politically and socially and that both country characteristics and personal attributes are important determinants of vengeance.

It is important we understand that while Mocan is speaking of crime, he is not writing about terrorism.

You see, recently we had a change in conventional wisdom about terrorists. We used to think they latched on to terrorism because they had no jobs. Then, we started noticing that acts of terrorism were being carried out by people who were not exactly desperate for money, per se. Even Osama Bin Laden has gone to college.

The separation between terrorist and vengeful poor guy really comes from a state of mind. If the information that has been coming out lately is right, then the vengeful poor are vengeful because of actual economic reasons. “Class warfare” is a term that everybody hates, so I’ll use it. It seems as though terrorists don’t have to worry about the same thing that the vengeful poor do, so they have time to develop religious psychoses regarding desert land whose wealth is defined by the supply of a substance (oil) that would have no where near the value if the rest of the world was not as “secular” as it is.

The “cause” is a piece of land roughly the size of New Jersey; of course I’m talking about Israel. So, we have sovereign countries in oil rich land that want to retake land that has only religious significance. I understand that my use of the phrase “only religious” is a bit underestimating considering that wars have been started over religious grounds.

I think what we learn here is that vengeance comes to those who feel slighted, or cheated in some way. People who feel that the current system is stacked against them will most likely feel vengeful. Their outlying of the system can come either economically, or religiously.
Maybe we need to look at what people everywhere see as unfair because those who feel that they are treated most unfairly will seek to remedy their situations in some of the direst of manners.

(By the way, I started writing a week ago on Thursday, July 17th, but apparently Stephen Dubner subscribes to the same email lists I do.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Active Citizenship

I have written before about “active citizenship.” But, what is it? What does it require? Why is it necessary?

Considering that the July 4th anniversary (U.S. Independence Day) has just passed once again, there has been clamor once again over the idea of self governance. Americans are in love with themselves every July 4th, and the idea that we are self governing; that we have our destiny within our own hands. But, beyond 9th grade Civics, if we investigate deeper, we end up realizing that our idea of self-governance is really just a farce. Self-governance is merely the veil over our eyes to disguise us from the truth that we are not in control.

You need not look very far for the ideas against where we stand as voters. Those who vote often have absurd and diluted ideas of proper remedy to our nation’s concerns. Not only that, but voting is not in itself active citizenship. If I didn’t know any better, I could have sworn that I actually saw a farm animal in the voting booth in 2004.

Every election cycle I have constantly asked my own friends to abstain from voting. The idea being that my vote would count for more; as if I were the elected representative for our group of friends. But this does not even count as a dent; or any voting anomaly.

Active citizenship, sadly to me only, means that all citizens are informed and educated regarding the policies that are currently enacted, the goals they have for themselves, and the consequences of changing current policies and/or adding or deleting them. While I can write the instructions for such active citizenship in a sentence, the actual “doing” involves a generous amount of time spent reading and asking questions about what is going on in our nation and, maybe even more importantly, state.

Unfortunately, what most people consider active citizenship is devolved into what many people call, “hot button” issues. Or, as I like to refer them to, “Issues which will mean less and less over time.” Gay marriage is a perfect example. The more time goes on, the more people do not care. Yet, even though more and more people do not care, interest groups against gay marriage get louder and louder.

What about foreign policy? Taxes? Why can’t voters ever organize large enough for those items? Well, this is where active citizenship comes into play. You see, in areas such as foreign policy and taxes, we defer to so called, “experts.” This term, expert, I love.

A few times now I have hear Noam Chomsky give an example when people want to know about “doing more” and what it requires. He, and subsequently I, queried as to why people have the time to memorize a plethora of minutia on sport statistics while not bothering to know any real important history that could give context to our current political-global climate.

And sadly - because most everyone in the U.S. hates Noam Chomsky - he is right. Why don’t we know that the 1812 Overture, which is played every 4th of July, is actually about the defeat of Napoleon, and nothing to do with America? I mean this kind of ignorance smacks of the humor that was in an episode of The Simpsons where at an air show, the announcer says, “Now, the pride of the United States Air Force, the British made Harrier jet.”

Apart from the effort of memorizing sports statistics, the fervor that people have in order to call in the morning sport shows and combat these experts is barely palpable. You see the difference now? Sports: YES! Politics: Why would I waste my time with that?

Once we can get past the idea that we can divert more energy into our political discourse for the everyday man, we then have to ask why it is necessary. The answer is actually quite simple really. We should act and care about our politics so that if we do complain, we’ll know why, and we’ll know that we’re doing something about it.

Look no further than our incumbency rates in the United States (95% if I remember correctly). Sure, the system is broken, but the apathy of our body politic does not help. And the numbers only show that if you’re complaining about how things are going, then we all need to ask why keep sending the same people back. Is there ability to blame others that good?

I’m not going to make a stance here, although I’m sure it sounds like I have. But what I have tried to do is give the idea some exposure. This is about asking yourself if you actually feel like you are governing yourself. And if you don’t think you are, then maybe we need to change some of the wording that we use to describe our political system.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Asked for Advice on Dating/Signalling

A question comes to me:


If you have asked a girl out, and she doesn't respond to it, but still talks to you, what is the proper signal to take away?

Amazing this question came to me because I have experienced such singals recently, and before, but I have some more perspective now. Let us look back on how I
discussed signaling over a year ago. I wrote:

Simply put: I’m signaling _______ because _______ is what I want


Not only that, but we need to remember that actions speak louder than words. Just like how an economist would say, “They voted with their pocketbooks.”

Sad to say to my questioner, but this means that chances are, you are not whom she is looking for. And that of course assumes that she is looking in the first place.

However, let us try to gain sime more perspective.  As 
Bella DePaulo has been writing of late on the Psychology Today Blog, the young woman you are asking out may actually be in touch with her own single-ness. Psychologically speaking, DePaulo surmises that our society gets caught up and trained into the thinking that we need to be married, or that our own selves are defined by a relationship, or by who we are with someone else.

So, one would hope that the person you seek to form a relationship with has a well defined sense of self.

Unfortunately, as an economist, this does not change the fact that you need to spend time with this woman in order to form the bond that two independent people could form if they find their common interests, personalities, and goals. While the psychological underpinnings might be up in the air in terms of the possibilities of a great relationship, the economics so far says that the person you wrote of does not have the time, or is not willing to concede the time to do so with you.

But, take heart; maybe this will allow you the time to reexamine your own personal utility function. What are the items that matter most in your life? How would you prioritize those items, and do you see any of them as something that could ever be sacrificed? Or, how about your own personal thoughts on what a relationship is. Do you even think that it’s necessary to have to sacrifice something?

As DePaula points out, when we are comfortable with ourselves and accepting of who we are without being identified in a relationship, we can actually make better decisions about ourselves and relationships. Otherwise, if you are not honest with yourself, or her, any contract and form of signaling you do would only lead you to not filling your part, or never being satisfied with what you were expecting.

Long story short, a few notes:

- Life is not going to stop, and I would hate to think you would stop yours while someone else continues with theirs.  So, don't give up on your own goals and ambitions, and don't be afraid to be inspried and get new ones.
- Try to keep a good sense of yourself, and who you are as you go through these signaling and contracting phases.