Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday links

1/ Let me google that for you passive aggressively helps your friends... (HT: MM)

2/ How should 'development workers' live? and this poem defines 'development work' wonderfully.

3/ What should World Bank economists do? (I'm going to be a World Banker soon...)

4/ International Development Meetings defined.

5/ George Osborne, the UK's new Finance Minister, gives up the power to forecast. I approve.

6/ This isn't quite true any more, but I like it anyway:

7/ Plans to attack the Danish and Dutch football teams during the World Cup to avenge the drawing of Muhammed cartoons. Unfortunately, no big protests from Muslims that those who plan these attacks are soiling Islam. Apparently no problems organising large-scale protests and banning Facebook in Pakistan (and creating Facebook pages) against a Draw Muhammed Day (or here or try it cached if it is blocked) though.

8/ Terrorist attacks 1970 to 2010.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Restaurant where you pay what you think it is worth

See the link here.

Lots of restaurants have pay-what-you-think-it-is-worth evenings occasionally, don't they? I've been to a few at any rate. Really, if people pay what they think it is worth, usually the restaurant should get more money since whatever you pay for something, you must think it is worth *at least* that amount. But you may think it is worth more. It is described by the concept of consumer surplus.

It should work providing (a) people don't consistently
mis-judge a restaurant's quality, (b) people are honest, and (c) people are not anchoring their prices to similar restaurants.

I reckon that (c) is probably the most risky one here. Plenty of economic psychology re
search suggests that people are very bad at judging 'worth' without some anchor. Dan Ariely's book, Predictably Irrational has some nice examples of this. If other restaurants seen as similar (type of food, geography, style,...) tend to be cheap, people will pay less, even if they would otherwise have valued the food more highly.

If I were a betting man though, I'd bet this restaurant would work.

(HT: VL)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Economics proves England will win the World Cup!

Just like at cricket :)

See the proof here.

Is there any need to actually play the tournament now?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The new British cabinet

Here is a who's who in the new Cabinet. I am slightly disappointed that there isn't a 'dream team' of Ken Clarke and Vince Cable (a former ODI fellow!) at the Treasury. I think there's been a real opportunity missed there - possibly for political reasons.

Instead, the new Chancellor is George Osborne. I've got nothing against him, but I don't think he is of the same calibre as my dream team. Vince Cable has got a big post at Business and Banks, but I'm worried that his instincts may be over-regulation - Some regulation is (obviously) required, but it should be carefully thought-through and not too ideologically driven. I'm not sure this post allows the country to get the best from him.

There's no end of comment on the new cabinet. The Guardian asks whether it will end in tears, and there is plenty of talk on the need for the new cabinet to reassure skeptics.

Development policy
Andrew Mitchell is the new Secretary of State for Development (DfID). Here is a nice blog on the new UK Government development policy, and here is an open letter from the influential ODI to the new Minister.

How we manipulate each other - some musings

A recent conversation got me thinking about how humans manipulate each other.

As a species, humans are programmed to manipulate our physical environment in order to make life easier or more pleasant. We build buildings, cultivate land, divert rivers and streams and many more things. We use trial and error to see what works and we are constantly applying what we know and testing new ideas.

Since we are social creatures, a large part of our environment consists of other people. Our interactions with them are important. As children we experiment with behaviour to try to understand how it will alter our environment by changing the actions of others. Babies, for example, learn what the impact of crying is, young children learn quickly how to get what they want - For example, if I want sweets/candy, should they badger their parents or be extra nice? Whine and mope or be aggressive?

They are learning how other people respond to their behaviour in order to improve their own lives.

Throughout life, we are constantly both applying lessons learnt in the past and experimenting with behaviour patterns and observing how that influences different types of people. Usually, we take a prior understanding and adjust slowly to new information using a Bayesian updating process.

In some very real sense, we are always manipulating other people. There is no social interaction that we can have in which we do not in some way calibrate our own behaviour depending upon the expected reaction of other people.

So what do we mean by 'manipulation' when we use it in a disparaging way? I am not really sure. I have a few ideas:

1/ I am wondering whether it is a question of degree. For example, someone who has very well understood - probably intuitively or possibly learnt through techniques such as Neuro-linguistic programming - how people behave might be seen to be particularly manipulative. Someone who is able to quickly judge your reactions to their own behaviour will adapt his own in order to achieve the desired effect. We all do it - that is partly what good communication is about - but people who always seem to get what they want may be particularly good at 'manipulating' others.

2/ Is it the ability to get the reaction one wants from someone in the short term, but which goes against what would have been the wishes of the other person? For example, I am a salesman who works in a store and use my good understanding of customers to manipulate one into making a purchase s/he might regret later on.

This is obviously always a worry, and that is why in most countries, consumers have the right to return products they have purchased 'on a whim'.

3/ Is it a matter of motive? If someone manipulates another person for a 'bad reason', is this what we call 'manipulative'? That, of course, suggests that we can define 'good' and 'bad' and it is not obvious to me that we can. In addition, it suggests that of two equally 'manipulative' people, the person who manipulates you in a way which is good for you, is not 'manipulative', whilst the person who wants bad for you (or good for themselves regardless of you?) is 'manipulative'.

We are constantly seeking to manipulate other people, and cannot help but do it. But it is still not obvious to me what we mean by 'manipulative' in a disparaging way.

Here are two Google auto-suggest that I remember seeing a while ago and found interesting. They give the most popular search results for 'how to get my boyfriend to' and 'how to get my girlfriend to'. They shows how pervasive 'manipulation' is.

Have I missed anything?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday links

Some interesting election related links:

“The basis of Lockean thought is his theory of the Contract of Government, under which all political power is a trust for the benefit of the people. His thinking underpins our ideas of national identity and society. Please don’t let those who seek to ban our beauty win. Vote to save Page 3!”

It seems just asking people if they intend to vote is a good way.

Links on the European economy/Greece etc.:

Sexual behaviour: