Saturday, September 10, 2011

Magic and market design

I was struck by some of Michael Trick's thoughts on Operations Research, and how they applied as well to Market Design: Explaining Operations Research to, and being, a Muggle.

Taking his cue from the Harry Potter novels, he writes:
"A wonderful aspect of working in operations research, particularly on the practical side of the field, is that you both work with Muggles and get to be a Muggle."
"Over the years, I have started as a Muggle about cell-phone production, sports scheduling, voting systems, and a number of other areas.  And I got to read about these areas, and talk to smart people about issues, and, eventually, become, if not a Wizard, then at least a competent student of these areas.

"Some fields are, by their nature, inward looking.  The best operations research is not, and that is a true pleasure of the field."


There's some additional pleasures to being a market designer, aside from those of being both a novice among experienced market participants, and at the same time an economist among market participants who may not fully understand the forces buffeting their particular market. It has to do with the fact that economists and economics used to be confined to the study of existing markets, and now we sometimes get to help build them.

This reminded me of a different book about magicians, “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell:  A Novel” by Susanna Clarke.  The novel describes a world in which magic used to exist, but no longer does…until some new students of the craft come along.

“Mr Segundus wished to know, he said, why modern magicians were unable to work the magic they wrote about….

“The President of the…society…explained that the question was a wrong one.  ‘It presupposes that magicians have some sort of duty to do magic—which is clearly nonsense.  You would not, I imagine, suggest that it is the task of botanists to devise more flowers?  Or that astronomers should labour to rearrange the stars?  Magicians…study magic which was done long ago.  Why should anyone expect more?’ ”

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