10 Jun 2008

Lunch with the GMU guys

I had lunch with Tyler and Alex (of Marginal Revolution fame), Bryan (EconLog) and Robin (famous unto himself but also a contributor to Overcoming Bias), and they asked me their "standard questions," i.e.,

What's the best thing to study in social sciences these days?

What do you believe that others think is crazy?

[or something like that...]

and my answers were these:

I think that cooperation is the best thing to study, because methodological individualism (i.e., looking at the world from the view of the individual) fails to capture the dynamic interactions of people in groups. As part of this study, we need to know how institutions increase or decrease cooperation; see this and these.

I think that the world is headed towards an environmental catastrophe, which I defined as a 25% decline in GDP consumption quality of life; see this post.

I was slightly-surprised to see that these answers are interrelated, i.e., if we are going to prevent or cope with such a catastrophe, then we are going to need some serious cooperation, and we (economists, not psychologists, sociologists or political scientists) surely need to understand how people in groups succeed and fail to cooperate.

Bottom Line: It's fun hanging out with those guys -- and even more fun were the things that we said off the record :)

Addendum: Here's a 2006 paper [PDF] on the application of cooperative game theory to natural resource problems (via WaterSISWEB.). I tend to prefer experimental methods, since results in CGT are usually math-driven, i.e., completely specified by the researcher -- garbage in, garbage out.