Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A danceable economic experiment on public good provision

Lights! Dancers! Economics!

"If Milton Friedman and Martha Graham had a love child, it might look something like the "Tragedy of the Commons."

"Antony Davies, an associate professor of economics at Duquesne University, and his sister, Jenefer Davies, an assistant professor of dance at Washington and Lee University, staged the experimental production this month at Washington and Lee to demonstrate a key principle of economics. The tragedy of the commons, enunciated in an essay of the same name in 1968 by the ecologist Garrett Hardin, states that when a resource is held jointly, its owners will deplete it more quickly than when individuals own equal and private portions of the same resource.
"In the performance, five volunteers from the audience individually controlled spotlights that illuminated each of five dancers onstage. Volunteers were told that they should try to keep their dancers illuminated as long as possible but that the light was a limited resource: The first performance began with 30 seconds of light in the communal "light bank," and audience members drained that bank when they illuminated their dancers. Turning the light off, however, would slowly replenish the time in the bank.

"Immediately after the first performance with the communal bank, the dancers began a second performance. But this time the five volunteers drew light from—and restored it to—private banks, up to six seconds per volunteer.
"The economic theory played out as anticipated. The volunteers generated more light during the second leg of each of the three performances, with their individual "light banks," than they did while sharing time from the communal bank. Mr. Davies was relieved."

You can see the dance here: econ dance performance

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