Markets in everything

by on October 11, 2010 at 2:11 pm in Current Affairs, Economics | Permalink

The 33 trapped Chilean miners have moved to stop any individual from profiting at the expense of the group, drawing up a legal contract to share the proceeds from the story of their ordeal.

The group have already rejected requests for interviews and have instead made plans to jointly write a book about the days spent trapped below the Atacama Desert following the mine collapse on August 5.

We'll see if that holds up.  The full story is here and for the pointer I thank Eric Hartley.  Is it unethical to pay an individual miner for the story of the group?

Tom T. October 11, 2010 at 10:14 am

How good can the story be? "Day 2: Sat in the dark. Day 3: Sat in the dark. Day 4: Sat in the dark. Day 5: Sat in the dark…."

shaun October 11, 2010 at 10:33 am

I'm willing to bet that the first 18 days before the first relief well had been drilled could hold some pretty interesting and/or disturbing details.

Lynnehs October 11, 2010 at 10:54 am

I don't know if it's unethical. I guess it depends. If others are willing to talk, then yes it would be unethical because a more accurate story is likely to come about if you get it from multiple people. If only one person is willing or able to talk about it, then no it's not unethical. Another possibility is that one person's story differs radically from everyone else's. Then it might be unethical unless there is some physical evidence that the minority viewpoint is likely to be more accurate.

libert October 11, 2010 at 10:58 am

The contract creates an implicit 32/33 (=97%) tax rate on any work done by the miners on the book (or other related work). And then you add income taxes, making the final implicit tax rate closer to 98 or 99%. So who's gonna write the book?

Ryan Vann October 11, 2010 at 11:17 am

"How good can the story be? "Day 2: Sat in the dark. Day 3: Sat in the dark. Day 4: Sat in the dark. Day 5: Sat in the dark…."

That was my original thought.

Anyway, seems this collusion is a bad idea. Anyway, I find the question, "Is it unethical to pay an individual miner for the story of the group?" to be wrongly construed. The individual miner would be presumedly paid for his perspective of the events. There is no group story to be told, as a group doesn't have one conciousness. Moreover, it seems there would be more money to be made if the miners agreed to share all profits relating to recollection of the events, rather than collude to make one book on the matter.

That this isn't the tract they took suggests maybe there are details some wan't quelled.

Anonymous October 11, 2010 at 12:06 pm

This contract is the only ethical thing that they could have done. There is no market for 33 ghostwritten books on this, and simply rushing to be the first to get a book out both will result in a crummier product for the readers and a slap in the face (or stab in the back) to the other miners.

Dan Weber October 11, 2010 at 12:40 pm

I thought miners weren't allowed to enter into contracts.

S. O. October 11, 2010 at 12:55 pm

They face the prisoners' dilemma of oligopolistic cooperation, we'll see if they end up at the Nash equilibrium.

Hei Lun Chan October 11, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Couldn't they make more money if they come out with more than one book?

simmmo October 11, 2010 at 4:28 pm

liberal economists just don't get that fairness matters to people.

The miners have experienced something as a group, together and have vowed not to use the shared experience for opportunistic purposes. This seems only fair.

Will some, perhaps more outspoken, miners break with this pact? Maybe. But will the loss of friendship that probably will proceed from this action be worth it? I think at the end of their lives they will look back and probably say no. By which time they will not be able to learn from their selfish mistakes.

mkt October 11, 2010 at 6:01 pm

The fairness issue is a big one, part of I think an even larger issue of individualism versus willingness to submerge one's individuality within a group.

I'm not sure if many groups of Americans, even American miners, could have lived cooped up in those close quarters without extreme friction or even a breakdown of the social order. Reports say that the miners worked out numerous details of daily life: everyone divided into three shifts; everyone required to eat at the communal table, etc. Most Americans consent to those regulations only in strongly hierarchical situations, e.g. the military, or primary and secondary school.

When put into a stressful, long-term environment, Americans sometimes react like (pick your favorite — the crew of Apollo 13, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, whatever), but they also sometimes react like say, the Donner Party or the crew of the whaleship Essex (I don't mean the cannibalism part, I mean the breakdown of social order: dissolving into factions, rebelling against authority, and resorting to violence).

Individually, many of us Americans could survive fine cooped up for two months underground; soloists go on tran-oceanic voyages or cross-country backpacks all the time. But 33 random Americans (or even 33 co-workers) forced to live and cooperate with each other continuously for two months? I don't know how many of us could do it.

Justin October 11, 2010 at 7:16 pm

The decision of the miners to split the profit was the best action to take in their situation. This gives all the miners equal compensation for their story. They all had to go through it so why should one miner get paid more for his story then another miner sharing the same story from his point of view. In the end the miners decided to be ethically responsible and split their compensation evenly.

Also, being trapped in a mine don't you think the miners are more worried about surviving rather than the money they could possibly make when getting out? I do not know maybe it is more comfortable in a mine than I thought.

Anonymous Coward fro October 12, 2010 at 12:29 am

"How good can the story be? "Day 2: Sat in the dark. Day 3: Sat in the dark. Day 4: Sat in the dark. Day 5: Sat in the dark….""

No, this is the story of the financial crisis, from the bank officials or financial regulators standpoint. Miners probably found ways to adapt to darkness and get a life.

Jose October 12, 2010 at 3:41 am

Well, history is always a good place to start as a reference point. In this case the story of "Alive" or The Andean Flight Disaster comes to mind. Terrible things happened in there, and the story came out in many forms, firstly as a group story but eventually some individual heroes emerged from it. Both sides equally fascinating!

In the end, history is only written by the survivors and inevitably every situation gives room to a personal experience and a very personal point of view from each individual involved.

Bill October 12, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Jim and Ryan, I actually think that the agreement arises from individual self-interest. Thus, you do not need to put this is a coercive format. In fact, I think you could show that each is better off acting as a group than collectively, if you inpute all costs and benefits.

1. They get higher total revenue acting as a cartel. Think of their problem if they do not coordinate. Each of them shares, really, a common story–oh, sure, there are differences, but how many different books would you read of each persons first person account. I'd tire after one. So, consider that Jose individually gets approached by one book agent: Hey, Jose, sign this contract or I'll go over to Emmanuel, who will agree to do it for less. Nah, Jose's story isn't much different. Jose and Emmanuel can lock arms with others and hold out for a higher price.

2. Consider the alternative again: individual contracts, each by each, of potentially 33 competitors. First one out gets the most publicity, starts talking into his tape recorder, etc. He also ignores his health because he is busy writing or talking to a reporter–he has to make a trade off, his health and time in the hospital OR a quick book. The one's behind him also have the same incentive to ignor health. Also, when I say health, I also include mental health–how you decompress, and to whom, (a reporter or psychiatrist) has a cost in future years. OR Go slow, knowing you and everyone else shares in the contract, decompress, get composure and meet with your psychiatrist. In other words, consider costs AND benefits, not just benefits, of each alternative.

3. Get your story straight and bargain with others to withhold the truth by publishing one document. Do you want your children to know you were crying and wetting your pants. That won't be in the single book, but it would come out in the individual books because you couldn't negotiate with the other authors, and each would have the incentive to make you look like a woosey, and themselves as the he man.

Anyway, I don't think this is clear cut. And, no one has discussed the different cultural aspects of this. Not everyone acts like an American, believe it or not; some societies are more communitarian, and some "societies" formed under pressure endure and extend into other spheres. Think: Semper fi.

A. Bird October 14, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Great comments. I like what I'm hearing. I really enjoyed reading these comment which I think may have been taken out of context by a few other writers on this thread. I think what V.D.'s trying to say is that, in societies where the people are "forced" to live a "simpler" life, is causes a certain closeness of communities, maybe even a certain type of comradery that we haven't seen in this country since the, "Hunter/Gatherers" were picking berries and trading with each other for necessities to survive. Here, we put people who have sacrificed their own sweat and blood for very little for very long, trying to make a difference in their lives and the lives of their families and risking their lives to do so. Then all of a sudden everyone starts throwing dollar signs around and greed shows up out of nowhere, the community gets disheveled and starts breaking apart, and all while 2500 feet below the earth. The were forced to make deals with the devil. The devil being man's own greed but also the possibility of all of their wildest dreams finally coming true. It would be hard not to want to go it solo. But what Reader Bill has pointed out is that if they can come together for this, they will be far more successful at making their dreams a reality. This book will sell millions, and like Bill, I would probably only read one book. Individual interviews or articles are great–after, but one story, one book, one movie, (in my opinion). You can "friend" the miners on fb, just search for, "Chilean Miners" :) Thanks, A. Bird

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Markets in Everything

by on October 7, 2010 at 11:19 am in Economics | Permalink

Costco is selling "Thrive," a one year supply of dehydrated and freeze-dried food for $799.99. I find the pairing of capitalist efficiency in advertising and distribution with end of the world preparation oddly disconcerting.

albatross October 7, 2010 at 7:28 am

Zombie repellant not included.

Seriously, for most people, some level of emergency preparation is a pretty cheap form of insurance. I don't know how useful a year of food would be for most of us–in my suburban area, if food is hard to get for a year, social order will be well and truly broken down, and there's simply no way I can see to prepare well for that where I live. On the other hand, the basic level of preparation (a bit of cash, some charged flashlights and a radio, stored food and water for a few days, an emergency heat/cooking source, some kind of minimal first aid kit, a month's worth of extra queued up medicine) is pretty sensible for where I live, and doesn't actually cost much.

Steve October 7, 2010 at 7:52 am

All vegetarian, too. I guess that's why there's a meat.org ad on the right.

Sviluppo October 7, 2010 at 8:01 am

This is a weird kit, and I say that as someone that's eaten a lot of freeze dried foods, MREs, and done a lot of cooking while camping.

They talk about baking, but there's no lard, yeast, shortening, oil, baking powder, or baking soda. Most of this requires boiling water, which means you'll need to be near a clear stream, dig your own well and pump, and have access to enough firewood to purify the water and then use it for boiling your rice/beans/lentils/etc.

So in an urban area without electricity or running water this is useless, and in a rural area you'd be much better off spending your time gardening and hunting and fishing rather than trying to choke down a gallon of Taco-flavored textured vegetable protein before the opened can goes bad.

Bill October 7, 2010 at 8:03 am

Yes, it is a sale, but the required one year supply of water costs $500.

Patrick L October 7, 2010 at 8:25 am

Pfft, you can get a shotgun for like half that price.

momama October 7, 2010 at 8:32 am

"I find the pairing of capitalist efficiency in advertising and distribution with end of the world preparation oddly disconcerting." – AT

"The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them" – Lenin

Matthew October 7, 2010 at 8:45 am

I find your equating freeze dried food with the end of the world. Seriously, I'm not just trying to be snarky. It's not like it's a batch of suicide pills and Do's and Don'ts guide to conversing with St. Peter.

Ryan Vann October 7, 2010 at 9:30 am

Why do you find it disconcerting?

On an aside, that price seems like a rather cheap food budget to me. I probably throw a good $150 a month at groceries, and a fair percentage of that spoils (maybe 5 bucks worth a month.)

Bruce Bartlett October 7, 2010 at 9:46 am

That sounds like a good deal This place charges $3,000 for two people for a year: http://www.internet-grocer.net/2yr-unit.htm

Ted Craig October 7, 2010 at 9:57 am
BPO October 7, 2010 at 10:40 am

"I'm not surprised its selling. There are the gun nuts waiting for the Mad Max world, those that think the rapture is nigh, the 2012 crowd, and the plethora of conspiracy theorists ("Obama is going to put everyone in FEMA concentration camps!") etc. etc.

What surprises me is that Glenn Beck isn't somehow involved. You'd think this would pair very well with the "survival seeds" he pushes."

I find it astonishing that so soon after nearly an entire decade of outlandish lunacy, conspiracy theories and devolution into madness on the left, people like this still point fingers at those on the right as though they've got anything within a galaxy of being a monopoly on this sort of mindset.

Do people honestly think this way? Do you honestly not see the 'crazy' all over the left as well as the right?

Doc Merlin October 7, 2010 at 11:20 am

A better question is “are you prepared for the zombie apocalypse?”

figleaf October 7, 2010 at 11:59 am

I see it the same way "mobile" does. I live in an area prone not only to flooding and snowstorms but also earthquakes and volcano eruptions. Post-Katrina I'm aware that civilization doesn't actually fall apart after a catastrophe, but also that national, state, and local response capacity has been… um… diverted. So yeah, while there's no need for a year's supply of food for one person, it does translate into two weeks of food for my family and neighbors. Water we've got (its the Pacific Northwest after all) and I'm not too worried about Mad Max scenarios (how far can armed yahoos in SUVs really drive with 3,000+ bridges down?) But I do care about social order and, apocalypse porn fantasies notwithstanding, enough food and shelter is probably a bigger bulwark against temporary than shotguns and bars over the basement windows. So next time I'm at Costco I'll probably check it out.

If I was going to stockpile anything for longer term I'd stockpile chocolate, paper goods (toilet paper, sanitary napkins, paper plates and cups) and coffee and tea and something to prepare it with.

What would you stockpile in preparation for a Katrina-sized disaster in your area?

figleaf

Tom Seddon October 7, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Most interesting to me is that there's $200 off!

Should I trust in the wisdom of the market, or is this a contrarian indicator?

APOPO October 8, 2010 at 12:26 am

Good news that someone in USA got the brain to understand we can beat the Ramen industry at its own game : survival in the workplace zombies apocalypse.

Economic growth will be back, without inflation –since who seriously cares about Ramen substitutes ?

billswift October 10, 2010 at 3:44 am

>Pfft, you can get a shotgun for like half that price.

And do what with it? Eat your neighbors?

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