“I am not interested in what you think you know about baseball, or what you think I don’t know about it. I am not interested in guts or heart or determination or anything else the fans or what your mothers love about you. I’m interested in getting you on base. If you can do that, we win.” Taken from MONEYBALL (the movie pg 75 of script.)
Economists always teach how consumers maximize utility (happiness) subject to a budget constraint or how firms minimize costs subject to a production level. These are known as optimization problems. It seems to me that Moneyball is a combo of the two. The Oakland A’s set out to maximize their wins subject to a salary cap much like a consumer going shopping except the Oakland A’s are a firm trying to make a profit–and wins help the bottom line.
Moneyball also uses the concept of exchange or trades to solve this problem. Statistically overvalued players are traded for undervalued players much like overvalued currencies or stocks are bought with overvalued ones. Players are traded to get the right mix that accomplishes the goal of maximizing wins. Furthermore, these trades can include money but not necessarily. In other words, the trades are partly barter. The movie showed a multi-player trade which beautifully demonstrates the nail-biting concept of arbitrage and coincidence of wants which is the rationale for why money is the common medium of exchange in the wider economy.
Who knew that baseball could teach us so much about Economics?
It is precisely because there is so much poverty, hunger and illness that the world must be very careful not to get in the way of the things that have bettered so many lives already– the tools of trade, technology and trust, of specialization and exchange. It is precisely because there is still so much further to go that those who offer counsels of despair or calls to slow down in the face of looming environmental disaster may be not only factually but morally wrong. Matt Ridley in The Rational Optimist on page 354
This book had me at ‘feeding the nine billion’!
I am a naturally optimistic person and The Rational Optimist: How Properity Evolves gives credence to my inclinations. I have always thought that humans were capable of solving problems and this book hammers that nail firmly in place. His basic thesis is as follows. Humans have the ability to specialize and trade. This allows more bang for an economic buck and we are never going back to pre-barter days. Furthermore, since the advent of fast communication, ideas now have sex with one another resulting in an explosion of new technologies. No DNA to slow things down. This fecundity is the reason so much of the world is better off than it was fifty years ago never mind one hundred years ago. Except for a few cases of governmental disasters (for example the policies of (Mao, Stalin, and Mugabe) the average human being would never trade places with their ancestors, even if that ancestor was very wealthy. For the poor, things have gotten even better. This book is a must read for any leftwing person just so they know the arguments of free market types.
For behavioral economists, however, freedom has a cost, which is born by individuals who make bad choices, and by a society that feels obligated to help them. The decision of whether or not to protect individuals against their mistakes therefore presents a dilemma for behavioral economists. The economists of the Chicago school do not face that problem, because rational agents do not make mistakes. For adherents of this school, freedom is free of charge.
I like this book. In fact, I think it would make a great supplementary text for an experimental economics course. Kahneman explains carefully and exhaustively why human beings should think carefully about the process of making decisions. He argues that human beings can be quite irrational and this material is good to know especially if you want to make good decisions.
However, I do have a couple of quibbles:
1) The book is very long and I got really tired of reading over and over again why people make the wrong decision between two choices. The examples made me feel like I was at the optometrist. “Is this clearer or is this clearer?” After a while you just don’t care anymore.
2) He goes on a bit of a rant against economists (note that economists are quite willing to give a psychologist a Nobel Prize in economics it they think the work is worthy) and the assumption of rational agents. We understand the problem of this assumption BUT and this is a big but, rational agent models are still the best way to make initial predictions about market behaviour. What doesn’t work at the individual level seems to sort itself out at the market level.
3) Much of his policy implications just reinforce the economic idea that incentives matter. For example, an opt out system for savings will generate more savings in total because people will just have the money taken from their pay cheque without any effort. To the economist, the act of opting in is a transaction cost and the results make perfect sense. If it takes effort to start a savings program then less savings will occur. This doesn’t imply that the person is irrational.
Quibbles aside, this is a good read.