Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Assume Fragility?

Via SJ, a foray into the perils of being a young person in America. At issue: social expectations can mimic coercion. Saying "no" might be unpopular or urge others to say unkind things.

Assume this is true. Assume further that young people share this sentiment in sufficient numbers to adopt the following as a general heuristic: anyone in a protected class may say "yes" when they actually mean "no."

The consequences of this heuristic are damning for anyone in the protected class. Having to second-guess intonations of consent raises the cost of interacting with this class of people. A rational, risk-averse person will be more prone to avoiding someone whose most elemental words—yes and no—cannot be trusted. A rational, risk-averse person interacting with someone who fits the profile of an untrustworthy person will need to be compensated.

And as with taxes, the party that bears the cost of compensation will depend on the relative elasticities. If there are many substitutes for the young person who expects to be treated with kid gloves, young people in the protected class will pay the larger share of the social tax. If there are few substitutes, it will be the other party to pick up most of the tab. The cost burden of wilting violets is an empirical matter.

The alternative is to pursue virtue. Being able to say yes and no and mean it is an important component of integrity. Integrity is a useful virtue, as it reduces the uncertainty costs of doing business.

The collective action problem is particularly challenging here. To what extent should people form new stereotypes that conform to the yes-is-no-sometimes message in Jordan Bosiljevac's piece? To what extent will people form these new stereotypes? A small, well-organized, vocal constituency can clamor to petition the sovereign, and with enough amplification, can also successfully petition the entire society? If successful, what is the outcome? Is the price of an assumption of fragility one we wish to oblige others to pay?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?