The Environment Is Boring and Voting Is Wrong

Given that collective good problems are one of the most important concepts of the social sciences, it is understandable that you hear about it quite a bit. But hearing over and over the same examples, clean air and good election outcomes (which may not be such a good example at all) is a bit tiring. Here are two new examples I've come up with all by myself!
  • Celebratory reissues: DVDs and CDs sometimes come in what you could call "celebratory editions": 25th Anniversary Edition, Legacy Edition or some such format signaling that the work of art in question is generally considered "a classic". While this makes perfect sense for a Citizen Kane DVD or Exile on Main St. CD, a little bit of browsing will bring you across products that make you wonder. For example, there is a legacy edition of Matthew Sweet's album Girlfriend. Now, I own a non-legacy copy of Girlfriend and think it is a fine album (indeed, a better one than the wildly overrated Exile on Main St.), but I think it's fair to say it is not generally considered a classic - you might call selling a legacy edition of Girlfriend a misleading business practice. And Sweet's album is by no means the only example. Shouldn't we be surprised about this practice, given that releasing legacy editions of albums devalues the "legacy" and similar labels? According to the logic of collective action, the answer is no. To the extent that consumers don't differentiate between the practices of different entertainment companies, releasing a legacy edition of your product harms all products in the category (e.g., all celebratory reissues of old albums) - the singaling power of the celebratory label is a collective good - but the extra profits made by releasing a given reissue with the "legacy" label go exclusively to the company doing it. Hence, we should expect an oversupply of such reissues and a gradual devaluation of those special labels.

  • Blogrolls: The ostensible function of blogrolls is to present blogs the blogger likes. If they were indeed used only like this, one might assume that a blog reader can easily find blogs of interest to him by browsing the rolls of blogs he already reads, which would be quite handy for blog readers, including bloggers. But you can't exclude anybody from profiting from a general practice of linking only to blogs one likes. Here's where self-interest creeps in: The rational self-interested blogger is tempted to misuse his blogroll for linking to places that have linked to him in the widespread and well-known tit-for-tat, which in turn motivates those other bloggers to continue linking to him and so on and so forth. The blogger can use this practice to boost his traffic while still profiting from other people's "honestly" used blogrolls. Prediction: One will find many blogs with long blogrolls only a small portion of which is interesting to the average reader of the blog in question. This prediction holds up quite well when scrutinized.
Yes, these examples are a little more complicated than the average textbook ones. They're also more interesting. Let's call them "advanced".

A final bit of advice: "Paying for music" is an excellent example in theory, but when you use it in the classroom, you'll encounter wild emotional reactions and a shitload of stupid counterarguments. Don't go there.


Anonymous said...


Maybe the term 'blogroll' was always a play on the term for a very old practice?

LemmusLemmus said...

Heh! I like it.