I would like to present a few choice comments related to the earlier discussion of the Coase theorem and airplane seats:
I can’t wait for someone to post about actually trying this. I’m willing to bet most folks would wig out, refuse the money and recline out of spite.
Offering money to people not to do something is just not normal in polite society.
But I would love read about what happened to someone if they tried — at least so long as I don’t have to see it.
From Dan L:
So why does the Theorem fail? The obvious answer is that very few people think of paying off the person in front of them, and those few that do think of it will not attempt it because they don’t want to look like weirdos. Although one could call this a “social” barrier to bargaining as econgirl does, I think it’s really a failure of rationality (in the economic sense).
From Schisma Tism:
Simple fix: formalize this transaction. Each seat gets a ticket which can be traded with the seat immediately behind the owner of the seat and it can be traded either freely as an assurance of compliance with the request to not sit back or traded for other forms of compensation, such as money.
This way, the passenger who wishes the seat in front of him or her be left up wouldn’t feel so ashamed or embarrassed to ask — and the person in front of him or her can simply refuse the transaction/agreement if that’s what they desire. In case the passenger in front changes his mind later, the pair can resolve the issue or the stewardess can resolve the matter after the passenger shows proof of previous agreement and force the passenger in front to abide by that agreement.
My follow up point was that this is a decent example of how society would benefit from people explicitly knowing a bit more economics, since knowing that there are efficiency gains and win-win improvements to be had would likely make people less resistant to this sort of bargaining. Dave, however, had a slightly different take on the matter:
I think the good argument that has been made, overall, is that nobody would want to travel on a plane with economists.
Please, economists on a plane are totally harmless. See?
Technically, I am assuming that they are economists, but I feel it’s a safe bet given that the picture was taken on the way to the annual meeting of the American Economic Association. Also, I am well aware that my paparazzi behavior is not really helping the not wanting to be on a plane with economists thing.
If we take as given that people are, for the most part, not fluent in Coasian reasoning, then there is probably something to be said for the “trying to offer money would probably backfire” argument. For example, Dan Ariely argues that you can get some irrational behavior when social norms are replaced by money, or what he refers to as “market norms.” More specifically, he shows that people are sometimes less willing to complete a task if they are offered a small amount of money than if they are just asked nicely. In my world, this is a better reason to not try to pay someone to leave his seat upright than the “but he’ll think I’m weird” argument.
Dilbert, apparently, has no such qualms:
Dear Scott Adams: If you are reading my blog, it would be totally awesome if you came out of the woodwork and made yourself known. Just saying. It’s also worth noting that I am writing this from an airplane…and no, the seat in front of me is not reclined. I will leave you to wonder why that is.