Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Sunday, February 24, 2021

What do behavioral economists do, exactly?

Basically, they demonstrate how the straightforward rules of economic theory get mucked up when actual human beings enter into the mix, especially when social and market spheres overlap.

That’s what professor Dan Ariely does in his book “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions”. There are several experimental examples, but basically it all boils down to this:

The fact that we live in both the social world and the market world has many implications for our personal lives. From time to time, we all need someone to help us move something, or to watch our kids for a few hours, or to take in our mail when we’re out of town. What’s the best way to motivate our friends and neighbors to help us? Would cash do it — a gift, perhaps? How much? Or nothing at all? This social dance, as I’m sure you know, isn’t easy to figure out — especially when there’s a risk of pushing a relationship into the realm of a market exchange.

To the extent that you can predict human tendencies, I’m not sure you can quantify this business-versus-pleasure dynamic. I’d guess you’d find behavior that’s deemed unacceptable in, say, St. Louis would be standard operating procedure in Mexico City.

Beyond the specific case studies, the more interesting part is probably the concept itself — economics crossed with psychology and sociology.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 02/24/2008 07:15 PM
Category: Business, Society
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making a point
The rampant parity on display this National Hockey League season is prompting more and more complaints about the so-called “loser point”, aka the conditional third point that each team is guaranteed when regulation time ends with the score tied. The perception is that this point-padding is responsible for an unnatural tightness in the NHL standings, even though some theoretical number-crunching shows that that isn’t the case.

That third point does serve a purpose: It discourages teams from playing clock-killing prevent defenses during the overtime period. That’s pretty much was what was happening before the three-point structure was instituted. Teams preferred to withdraw into a defensive shell, ride out the five minutes, and come away with the one-point tie. That led to some of the most purposeless hockey you’d ever see. The guaranteed point, on the other hand, makes it less risky for teams to open up offensively and go for the two-point win, because there’s nothing to lose and only something to gain.

That’s how OT works in hockey. Offensive chances simply don’t manifest themselves enough to do it any other way, unless you want to go back to ties.

On the other hand, the shootout is a different story. There’s no possibility of defensive sandbagging — it’s a simple offensive contest. No matter how many rounds it goes, it still comes down to a shooter getting one past the goalie. No nuances.

That’s why I think the “loser point” should be eliminated once an NHL game goes into shootout. In my mind, it loses its purpose once overtime ends: It no longer serves as incentive to ensure fast-paced gameplay, and it certainly doesn’t have an impact on how teams approach the shootout. If anything, it creates added urgency for the shootout, which would make it even more popular than it already is.

So it would go like this: Regulation win would result in two points for the winner and zero points for the loser. Overtime win would result in two points for the winner and one point for the loser. Shootout win would result in two points for the winner and zero points for the loser.

I can’t see a downside to this structure. I suppose that if a team has a particularly strong shootout record, it may try to run out the OT with puck possession. But that would just give the opposing team that much more incentive to settle it in overtime. And regardless, if that strategy results in a shootout resolution, all the better.

Even this solution won’t satiate everyone, particularly purists. But it seems like the fairest way to minimize what’s perceived as point-padding.

FURTHER THOUGHTS: Well, I thought of a downside. If a team is determined to come away with one point, all it has to do is pull its goalie at some point in the OT, letting the other team win. That avoids the risk of going into the shootout, where the risk is greater because a team could end up with nothing.

So I guess the only true way to get rid of the “loser point” is to eliminate the overtime period altogether, and go straight to a winner-take-all shootout after a tied regulation. I doubt the NHL is ready for that complete break with tradition just yet, though.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 02/24/2008 05:43 PM
Category: Hockey
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subway strumming
Yes, that would be a lady playing her harp on a subway platform. Specifically the L Line’s first Brooklyn stop at Bedford Avenue and North 7th Street.

Musical performers are a common sight at NYC subway stations, but the majority tend to use more compact instruments like guitars. I’m guessing this harp lady is fairly unique. Plus, how much of a hassle must it be to lug that huge thing around? (That big blue thing behind her is the harp’s case, by the way.) I’d hope that she makes an appearance at a Manhattan station, but I’m thinking the chances are slim.

I wish I could take credit for capturing this shot, but I can’t. The original is right here, along with larger versions for more visual details.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 02/24/2008 03:36 PM
Category: New Yorkin', Photography
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