Bryan Caplan  

Martyrs and Gamers

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Silviu Dochia at Corner Solution has an insightful critique of my recent post on Larry Iannaccone and the market for martyrs. In the conclusion of my original piece, I wrote:

In other words, for every person willing to die, there must be at least one hundred sympathizers who would join a church that advocated suicide bombing. If you can't get one hundred people to join a church that preaches suicide bombing, you probably can't find anyone willing to practice suicide bombing.

So why don't American opponents of abortion do suicide bombing? My story, anyway, is that (a) Larry is right that there is little demand, but (b) Contrary to Larry, this virtually implies that there is vastly less supply.

Silviu sensibly replies:

Contrary to Bryan Caplan’s claim, knowing something about demand does not necessarily tell you much about supply. Lots of things could be supplied cheaply, but we rarely observe them. (When is the last time you found men's pink dress suits at the local store? Are tailors unwilling to supply them, or are they rationally responding to a lack of profit opportunities?)

In general, of course, Silviu's right. Just because people want their garbage hauled does not imply the existence of people who like the smell of refuse in the morning.

However, my argument is not that demand necessarily implies supply, but that in "religious markets" the two are unusually connected. Think of it this way: Who are the suppliers of religion - priests, nuns, and such? Empirically, they are basically just very intense demanders of religion - people so into the product they start making more.

Religion isn't the only example - lots of social activities fit the same model. Consider gaming. Who are the suppliers of games - organizers, referees, and such? Empirically, they are the die-hard players - people whose demand for games is so strong that they seize the initiative to make their hobby happen. I spent virtually every Saturday in high school (including Prom Night) refereeing a Dungeons and Dragons game. Why? Because I liked playing the game so much that I supplied not only my own demand but the demand of my fellow dateless wonders.

Yes, I too was a martyr for my creed... but the only victims were imaginary.

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The author at Augurnovo:rebirth in a related article titled On Martyrs writes:
    Here is something I read on EconLog that has got me thinking some ways.
    I remember back on Sept 12th 2001, I was in my Principles of Economics class and the Professor [Tracked on May 6, 2005 2:58 AM]
COMMENTS (8 to date)
Danno writes:

You know, I really don't think you can depict social activities such as play as a market and really get a very meaningful analysis of it. There's a heck of a lot of other factors involved with who plays with who you know?

For instance, liking, status, skill... I mean, if you were prepared to take into account all of those other psychological factors and then say that the value of the game (or other social activity) is the utility derived by the players from it, eh, I guess so. But there's way too many factors as I see it to get a good model.

Personally, I sort of think that the idea of personal utility is a bit of a null hypothesis and God knows when we'll be able to present conclusive evidence if it's the driving factor behind all human decision making.

Mr. Econotarian writes:


That's a sad story! Even I went to prom.

Luckilly, I met my wife in a medievalist organization, and we got married in a castle

Lawrance George Lux writes:

I will get crucified for this, but Demand is only generated by a Closed Environment. Suicide bombers always come from a personal milieu which lacks outside social contacts. I imagine there is a context of Male homosexuality associated with it, though it may not be expressed. Group identity comes from reinforced individual frustrations. Abortion Suicide Bombers are nonexistent, simply because of the Family orientation. lgl

Scott Scheule writes:


For those of us who idolize you, the only complaint we wish to register is: do you have to be so nerdy? And if so, do you have to be so flagrant about it?

N. writes:

Speak for yourself. Some of us idolize him because he's so flagrantly nerdy.

Dork pride!

Timothy writes:


I have a simple question, if I come to GMU for graduate school (presuming, of course, I'm smart enough to get in), may I play in your D&D games or will I have to ask Professor Cowen? Also, do you think the 3.5 Ranger and Bard were fixed well enough to make them attractive classes? In your opinion do Half-orcs still suck?

Randy writes:

This is starting to remind me of my favorite Civ III site.

Bill writes:

I don't understand nerd pride. What's wrong with being intelligent, intellectual, physically fit, and socially apt? What's wrong with having sex with a cheerleader before and after a good game of D&D?

All good things in moderation...

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