Why Some Bunt and Some Don't

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In his recent New York Times article on scientific studies of baseball, Alan Schwarz discusses a study showing that sacrifice bunts benefited the 2008 Mets, who bunted a lot, but would have hurt the 2005 Red Sox, who sacrifice bunted very rarely.

This seems to me to be a mundane illustration of what we call the Roy Model: given two choices, some people will choose one, some the other — and they will select themselves into different treatments.

In many cases, no single treatment works best for everybody. Perhaps more people should get college degrees; but many of those whom public policy might encourage to attend college are better off stopping at high school. Oftentimes the individuals know best what treatments will benefit them, so twisting incentives by offering subsidies to alter outcomes in such cases will not be socially beneficial.

Too often in thinking about policy we treat people as if they are identical along dimensions that we cannot observe.

They aren’t, and I imagine baseball is just one of the many non-economic illustrations of how the Roy Model applies.

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  1. UnderstatementJones says:

    Okay, but it’s unclear to me where we get the assumption that the way things are is the way things ought to be. Are we really twisting those incentives by helping people go to college, or might there be market failures that prevent people from choosing appropriately and valid policy reasons for encouraging people to go to college if they want?

    I’m happy to agree that public policy often fails to do exactly what it is designed to do, but the assumption that the null state is better by default is nonsense.

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  2. Kevin says:

    Agreed. Just because there unintended consequences exist doesn’t mean that they automatically outweigh the benefits.

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  3. Travis F. says:

    One of the problems is that in general we don’t like the status quo when it reinforces what many people have as gender stereotypes. Pulling this economics argument all the way from baseball to what seems to be thinly veiled affirmative action references might be too much of a stretch.

    The reason for encouraging so many people to go to college who are “minorities” (AKA not white) is because in general we don’t want to reinforce the stereotype that “minorities” are uneducated and many people feel guilty and/or bad when that stereotype is reaffirmed.

    This discussion might be better off talking in terms of other subsidies that most would agree are more economics motivated than socially motivated. (Energy / Farm come to mind)

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  4. chappy says:

    OK, but I guarantee the difference in treatment for the Mets and Red Sox is completely observable. The Mets don’t have the DH and more disparity between their hitters so the cost of a (roughly) automatic out is less. Social policy sometimes doesn’t offer those bright lines between observable characteristics that are changeable or simply subject to self selection.

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  5. Judahce says:

    Making connections between things that would, in other perceptions, not align, is the basis for science and observation.

    I wouldn’t recommend college today…The expense, the business, its all about the all powerful dollar, and I would be interested to find out the average college experience cost. For the majority of students who attend a publicly funded, state school. Include all the stereotypes desires, cut down the exaggeration by 1/2 to offset, and discover the trillions. All for an education that spends the 1st two years reviewing high school.

    Basing one’s perception off his/her choices is the only way to learn anything.

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  6. A2 says:

    As there are high school students that should not pursue college education, there are many students that do pursue higher education solely based upon their socio-economics status. It’s not just public policy — the wealthy have the means to education their children. It’s not an academic decision. I’m not sure I agree that more people should get college degrees. Ever sit in class with a disinterested, wealthy student? It’s less than inspiring.

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  7. Michael Casp says:

    “twisting incentives by offering subsidies to alter outcomes in such cases will not be socially beneficial. ”

    Someone should explain this to Obama. Maybe he shouldn’t be spending our children’s futures to save banks that aren’t worth saving.

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  8. frankenduf says:

    who’s better off by stopping at high school?

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