Saturday, May 18, 2013

Markets and Morality with Mice

Mouse image from Wikipedia - creative commons licence.
Fascinating paper in Science which tends to support the views of Michael Sandel and Alvin Roth that some things should not be marketized.

The researchers offered participants in their study (who seem to be students in Bonn) an opportunity to earn up to €20 by having a mouse killed - though as a minor detail the mouse was a surplus mouse and would be killed unless they chose to keep it alive. They found that only 46% of participants were willing to kill the mouse for €10 when it was entrusted to their care, but 72-76% were willing to kill the mouse for €10 when the transaction was subject to an auction market.

This is of course reminiscent of the famous dialogue between a Philosopher and a Socialite which I came across in Bob Townsend's classic book Up the Organisation (published in 1970 but now I'm pleased to see re-issued) As I recall it a Philosopher and Socialite meet at a party. He asks her if she'd sleep with him for $1M .  She's being honest and says yes.  "Now what about $10?" he asks. She's outraged: "What do you think I am, some kind of a ..." "We've already established that, now I'm trying to find out your price."  ($1M in 1970 is $6M in today's money).

It's also interesting to see a paper in Science referencing Karl Marx.

I took great exception to Prospect describing Sandel and Graying as "two of the world's greatest thinkers."  However Graying did a competent job of interviewing Sandel and the results are online here.

1 comment:

Crude said...

I don't know. I love the old joke, but really - are you opposed to vermin killing? (Assuming we're not talking about torture, etc.) In this case we're talking about something we literally have jobs dedicated to.

And if you dig in your heels and say it's utterly immoral, then why is the problem with 'marketizing' it - as if giving the government a monopoly on such things will be a grand improvement in and of itself?