Toward a theory of American academia

Paul E. Smaldino and Joshua M. Epstein have a new paper, note they are not responsible for my blog post heading, they called it “Social conformity despite individual preferences for distinctiveness.”  The abstract is here:

We demonstrate that individual behaviours directed at the attainment of distinctiveness can in fact produce complete social conformity. We thus offer an unexpected generative mechanism for this central social phenomenon. Specifically, we establish that agents who have fixed needs to be distinct and adapt their positions to achieve distinctiveness goals, can nevertheless self-organize to a limiting state of absolute conformity. This seemingly paradoxical result is deduced formally from a small number of natural assumptions and is then explored at length computationally. Interesting departures from this conformity equilibrium are also possible, including divergence in positions. The effect of extremist minorities on these dynamics is discussed. A simple extension is then introduced, which allows the model to generate and maintain social diversity, including multimodal distinctiveness distributions. The paper contributes formal definitions, analytical deductions and counterintuitive findings to the literature on individual distinctiveness and social conformity.

Other sources for paper drafts are here, and for the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

Comments

Toward a theory of the contrarian econopundit?

Luckily, economists have dull, mechanistic imaginations that produce models so crude that any self-respecting person would consider it an indignity to be described by them. So on the whole, their shabby work at least delineates no-go zones for the inexperienced to steer clear of. Do not become the caricature of an economist.

note they are not responsible for my blog post heading

Imagine if Leo Strauss used a yellow highlighter.

What is it with economists and Leo Strauss? I've spent half my life among political theorists and political philosophers and I've never heard him talked about more than on this blog. The only more common topic here recently is that guy and his Filipino fiancee who's half his age.

Ok, in that case I'll refrain from mentioning the Straussian reading of your comment, even though it is pretty awesome.

So, is it just that you guys discovered him so recently that jokes like this aren't old yet in this circle?

Though I guess, to be fair, you can find philosophers who think Aquinas's just price theory should be taken seriously.

Ummm, excuse me, my joke is a meta-joke about the over-use of Strauss here, not a joke about Strauss himself. If you stop and analyze it very carefully, I think you will realize that it is funny.

If not, then how about this one:

Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?

A: Mood affiliation.

Oh thank god. I trust I can be forgiven for not expecting that.

At least he's a real thing. A year or two ago, everyone here was talking about "mood affiliation".

Coming soon: does mood affiliation lead to assortative mating?

No, it doesn't. But assertive affiliation does lead to mood mating.

Sorry, assertive. (But assertive might work too.)

Perhaps TC name-drops Strauss so often precisely to generate evidence of "mood affiliation." Very few topics produce such uniformly substance-free emoting.

Once the methods to get distinctive are general and used by many, it nullifies the distinctiveness.

Only if distinctiveness is creatively created locally *without* commonly used frameworks / props etc. will it possibly work.

My intuition without digging into the models presented...

I suppose Leo Strauss disciples (or is it Disciples) self-organize to a limiting state of absolute conformity at places such as the University of Chicago and Hayek disciples (or is it Disciples) self-organize to a limiting state of absolute conformity at GMU, similar to monks who self-organize to a limiting state of absolute conformity at the monastery.

With the recent release of the Fed transcripts during the crisis, there's been a lot of hand-wringing about the players, those who favored aggressive monetary stimulus and those who opposed it. Of course, the voices of the former prevailed. Today, there's lots of criticism of the aggressive monetary stimulus, but what the critics can't deny is that it worked. It worked all too well. By that I mean it reinstated many of the conditions that prevailed before the crisis, including a preference among owners of capital for speculation over investment in productive capital. Bernanke et al. had no choice, since the Republicans in Congress blocked fiscal stimulus (after the initial fiscal stimulus), so they used the tools that were available (including QE). So here we are, with financial assets back up to the heights preceding the crisis, giving me and others a feeling of deja vu. Yes, we will experience another crisis, sooner or later. If I'm a trained economist, I'd be looking at tools other than the standard tools of monetary stimulus, so the Fed and government would have options next time, options that wouldn't restore the conditions preceding the crisis. But nooooooooo! Well, not quite, for the economists at Mercatus Center are proposing their alternative, which is essentially to do nothing: no fiscal stimulus, no monetary stimulus, just let the chips fall where they may. An economist who who doesn't self-organize to a limiting state of absolute conformity might develop alternatives, alternatives that would make her as famous as Lord Keynes.

Tattoos.

Goths.

Group motorcycle rides.

Registered Libertarians.

"We demonstrate that individual behaviours directed at the attainment of distinctiveness can in fact produce complete social conformity."

This is so wrong. Have the authors never been to SF? We are all so different here, there is no conformity in my group of friends. Stupid Republicans on the other hand, very conforming.

Is this also a mood affiliation joke?

80% of us vote for Nancy Pelosi every time. If that doesn't prove that we are all individualists, I don't know what could.

Sounds like you've never been to SF. Your second sentence is incorrect as well. Stupid people are less likely to conform to their social environment than intelligent people.

In his book, The Beginning of Infinity, quantum physicist/philosopher/espresso drinker David Deutsch proposes this exact explanation for the interesting paradox to how human creativity arose seemingly so suddenly. Looking at the archaeological record, the pace of tool use and improvement is astonishingly slow given the comparatively rapid, almost immediate, rise in innovation in the last couple of thousand years. How could creativity spring into existence like this almost fully formed in almost no (evolutionary) time at all? Deutsch proposes that the evolving mechanism of creativity was steadfastly applied almost exclusively to maintaining the status quo and conforming to traditions. This is why the history of technology seems to explode once the singular innovation of redirecting that creativity to beneficial *change* takes hold.

This manuscript is a perfect example of two of my pet peeves. First, it uses mathematics far more than is necessary and potentially for its own sake. Second, it show that, once again, economists succeed best when they don't read anything that was done before them. Undue mathematics + failure to read = publishing success (perhaps that would work better if I used greek letters)

This seems to be a variation on the Hotelling location model. Sure it is different, but at heart it takes off from the same thing - location along "Main Street." As soon as I saw that Hotelling was not listed in the references, I lost interest in reading further.

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