Baruch Dayan HaEmet

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Preview of Class #4: Social Dilemmas

Imagine the following thought-experiment: suppose you are in my “Advanced Topics in Law” class and further suppose that I, your instructor, have posted the following “extra credit challenge” to the entire class:

You can each earn some extra credit on your term paper. You get to choose whether you want 2 points added to your grade, or 6 points. But there’s a catch: if more than 10% of the class selects 6 points, then no one gets any points. All selections are anonymous, and the course grades are not curved.[1]

So, do you choose 2 points or go for 6?

The Logic of Social Dilemmas

This ingenious example illustrates the logic of a strategic situation known as a “social dilemma.” Often, in strategic situations like these, there’s a public resource–an open-access area or “commons”–that people can freely use to benefit themselves. In my classroom example it’s points, but in the real world the public resource could be the air, water supplies, fish stocks, etc.

Also, notice that the logic of a social dilemma is the same logic as that of the Prisoner’s Dilemma–but with more than two players. If everyone limits their personal use of the public resource, the group will thrive, but if too many people behave selfishly (trying to maximize their own personal outcomes), then the group eventually suffers because everyone is left with nothing as the public resource is depleted.

Stated formally, a “social dilemma” is a multi-player Prisoner’s Dilemma, that is, a dilemma involving n number of players, when n > 2. In addition, notice that the number of players does not alter the strategic aspect of the situation because, broadly speaking, it feels good to be cooperative both from a strategic and an ethical perspective. After all, if every student chose 2 points, everyone would get the extra credit, thus making it a rational choice. Also, it’s the communal choice, based on an ethical imperative to do what’s best for everyone in the group.

The strategic problem, however, is that many students might choose the seemingly selfish option. Why? Perhaps to increase their own grades, or perhaps because they fear that they will be taken advantage of. In short, no one wants to be the chump who chooses fewer points when they could have had more. Furthermore, from a purely selfish perspective, the ideal scenario would be if everyone else was cooperative but you were selfish, thereby maximizing your reward while maintaining the overall health of the group. But it rarely works out that way, and people often find themselves in deadlocks of mistrust with others in their group.

I will discuss a real-world example of a social dilemma, one from the world of business (commercial aviation), in the next day or two …

This is not a test!

[1] As the screenshot pictured above shows, this is not a make-believe example. Some professors have actually given this “extra credit challenge” to their students. See, e.g., Dylan Selterman, “Why I give my students a ‘tragedy of the commons’ extra credit challenge,” The Washington Post (July 20, 2015).

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How many votes are lost by mail?

Vote by mail at your own risk. According to this new empirical paper by Charles Stewart III, a professor of politics at MIT, approximately 1.4 million votes in 2016 were lost by mail or 4.0% of mail ballots cast and 1.0% of all ballots! Hat tip: Tyler Cowen.

Refund/Return Policy
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Constitution Day Symposium

The Cato Institute’s annual Constitution Day Symposium begins today at 10:45AM (Eastern Time). Here is a link to today’s program. It is an excellent program because, despite its misleading title, its focus is not exclusively on the oracles of the Supreme Court. Both in constitutional theory and practice, the roles of the other two branches of government in interpreting the Constitution are equally as important!

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America’s Amoral Article V?

On this day in 1787, the Founding Fathers of our country signed the proposed U.S. Constitution. (I say proposed because the Constitution was not officially ratified and did not become law until mid-1788.) To celebrate Constitution Day, which should be a national holiday, I want to share this thought-provoking paper by Richard Albert with my loyal readers. His paper is titled “America’s Amoral Constitution” and it reveals “an important if shocking truth about Constitution: no principle is inviolable, no right is absolute, and no rule is un-amendable.” His thesis is that the moral and political legitimacy of the Constitution “is rooted in an amoral code structured around the peculiar value of outcome-neutrality.” In plain English: as long as the rules of Article V are followed, anything goes! (Article V is the part of the Constitution that sets forth the rules for amending or changing the Constitution; see image below for a visualization of these amendment rules.) Alas, Professor Albert’s paper does not discuss whether Article V itself can be amended. Thankfully, however, I address that very question in my 2013 paper “Goedel’s Loophole.”

Update (9/23): I reached out to Professor Albert, and he recently replied back to me, so I will be blogging about Article V again–and about our exchange of ideas–soon!

Protecting Our Rights by Defending the Constitution - State Legislative  Races are Critical
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Frequency distribution of the page-lengths of my papers

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have posted 56 scholarly works to SSRN since 2006. Most of these works consist of published papers (38 in all), but some (18, to be exact) are unpublished works-in-progress. Of this corpus, two thirds of my papers (37 out of 56) are relatively short by law review standards: 20 pages or less! Below is a complete frequency distribution of the page lengths of my SSRN papers. Notice the lopsided bell-shaped curve of this distribution.

1-10 pp.11-20 pp.21-30 pp.31-40 pp.41-50 pp.
1324964
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Quantitative analysis of my scholarship

As I have mentioned in my previous two posts, I have posted a total of 57 papers (actually, 56; see note below) on SSRN since 2006. Thirty-eight of these papers are published works, while the remaining 18 papers are works-in-progress. I now want to examine my scholarly production from a quantitative perspective, beginning with page lengths. It turns out that I have written over 1000 pages during this span of time (2006 to the present). My shortest scholarly paper is just one page long–my letter “Kant on Evidence,” which was published in the Green Bag last summer–, while my longest paper is 49 pages–“Clones and the Coase Theorem,” which was published in The Journal of Law & Social Deviance. The average length of my works is 19 1/3 pages. For your reference, the table below indicates the page length of each one of my 57 papers:

 Page Length
137
210
311
442
518
610
716
824
937
1017
1125
1219
1331
1449
1513
164
1720
1814
1945
2018
217
2210
2310
2413
2517
2622
2746
2816
2939
3021
3111
3218
331
3439
3518
3611
3719
387
3915
4021
418
4227
4317
4426
4512
4617
4729
487
498
5018
515
5218
5316
549
5519
5633
572
Total:1085*

*Note: The actual total is 1092, but I just realized that one of my papers–my seven-page contribution to the anthology of “Best & Worst of Contracts Decisions”–was posted twice. (See papers #21 and #48. What happened was this: I had initially posted a draft of my contribution in 2017; the editor of the anthology posted the final version in 2019. Both versions of this paper thus appear on my SSRN homepage.) This particular paper is just seven pages, so I subtracted 7 from the total to arrive at 1085. Since 1085 divided by 56 is 19.375, I am reporting the average length of my papers to be 19 and one-third pages.

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Temporal distribution of my scholarship (part 2)

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have posted a total of 57 scholarly papers on the Social Science Research Network since 2006. The table below shows the year in which I first posted a paper of mine to SSRN. (Again, here is a link to my SSRN homepage.) In summary, my most productive scholarly years were the even-numbered years of 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2020. Also, notice how my scholarly production fell off precipitously for three straight years, beginning in 2017. In my defense, during this three-year period of my scholarly life (2017, 2018, and 2019), I was co-authoring a new and comprehensive “Business Law & Strategy” textbook for McGraw Hill with my colleagues Sean Melvin and David Orozco–a massive endeavor that took up most of my free time during those years.

YearPosted Papers
20061
20071
20081
20095
20101
20112
20127
20135
20147
20155
20167
20172
20184
20193
20206
Total:57
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Temporal distribution of my scholarly productivity

I have posted a total of 57 scholarly papers on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) since 2006 and have subsequently revised 51 of these 57 papers. (Here is a link to my SSRN homepage.) The table below shows the months in which I first submitted each of my papers to SSRN as well as the months in which I submitted significantly revised versions of 51 of those papers. As you can see from the table below, October is my least productive scholarly month of the year, while the winter months of January/December and the summer months of June/July/August are my most productive scholarly months, i.e. the months in which I am not teaching. No surprise there!

MonthPostedRevised
Jan103
Feb50
Mar13
Apr31
May54
Jun95
Jul67
Aug46
Sep85
Oct11
Nov03
Dec513
Totals:5751
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None of the above?

I asked my undergrad business law students to watch Tiger King and then choose whether they were “Team Joe” or “Team Carole.” Of those who voted, 327 students voted for Team Joe, while 169 students voted for Team Carole, but a greater number of students (376 in all) decided to abstain from voting! In other words, neither choice was an appealing one. Nevertheless, I wanted to conduct this survey at the start of the semester in order to make an important philosophical point about business law (and about life in general): sometimes we are faced with two bad choices. In such situations, the key is to choose the lesser evil. Of course, in the case of Tiger King, reasonable minds can disagree on who that lesser evil is…

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