Applied Microeconomics

Every single class that I teach, I end with a little tradition: students must ask me five completely random questions. These questions must necessarily have nothing to do with whatever it is that I taught in that class, but that apart, they can be about absolutely anything under the sun.

There are many, many reasons for this little exercise: a fun way to wrap up class, helps students ask better questions, keeps me on my toes are just three of them. One of the questions that I was asked recently was about the whole Kunal Kamra/Arnab Goswami incident.

Here’s the quick summary of how I answered that question in class: I am not (and this is putting it mildly) a fan of Arnab Goswami, but I wish Kunal Kamra had not done what he did.

In what follows, I try to think like an economist in explaining the latter half of the summary above.

  1. Many more people have a heightened awareness of both Kunal Kamra and Arnab Goswami than before the incident took place, and to the extent that their professions benefit from more publicity, they gain in this one regard. (It is, of course, more complicated and nuanced than that, but this is a blog post.)
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  2. One reason I wish Kunal Kamra hadn’t done what he did is because the ensuing publicity of the video normalizes heckling somebody on a flight/in a public space. Yes, I have seen the video in which Tejaswi Yadav was heckled by the Republic employee, and of course I wish that hadn’t taken place either. My point remains the same in both cases: it has become more acceptable to heckle somebody in a public space, and that isn’t great for civilized discourse.
    In economist-y terms, the price one pays in terms of social disapprobation is lower for everybody. In plain English, it is now ok to do that, is the message that people are left with.
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  3. Both points above taken together imply there is a higher benefit (in terms of attention on social media) to be gained at a lower cost (lower social disapproval), which should lead the economist to predict that we should see more such incidents take place in public. The point remains true no matter who is doing it to whom in terms of the (for lack of a better phrase) ideological divide.
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  4. But then again, the fact that the supply of such incidents will rise effectively means a shifting out of the supply curve (with the quantity of such incidents on the horizontal axis and time spent being informed of these incidents on the vertical one). In English, the more such incidents are reported, the less time we will spend thinking about them.
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  5. That will either disincentivize people from being a part of such incidents, or normalize it entirely to the point of it becoming almost banal. As a cynic, my bet is on the latter.
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  6. Which, by my standards, is society becoming definitively worse off.
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  7. And by that standard, my normative prescription is that one should not engage in heckling somebody in a public space…
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  8. … and, in equilibrium, one should also make this the last article about this topic! This applies as much, of course, to the writer as it does to the reader.

 

Addendum: a friend to whom I had sent this post for feedback pointed out that in equilibrium with regard to point 5., people will have to be ever more attention seeking. My friend was horrified by that conclusion, and I agree on both counts.

 

 

 

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