A Tale of Two Peppers

by johnmccreery

In their third example, Miller and Page introduce politics into a model. The question is how to balance the interests of those who prefer red and those who prefer green chillies. Compared to standing ovations and beehives, this model seems almost toylike. But like those other models, this one, too, highlights deep issues.

The model assumes two towns, each with only three inhabitants. In both towns, two of the inhabitants prefer green chillies, only one is a fan of red chillies. When a vote is taken on which type of chili to eat at the annual picnic, democratic majority rules. Both towns choose green chillies. In neither town does the single fan of red chillies have a chance.

Then, however, we allow individuals to move from one town to the other.

If a red chili fan moves from one town to the other, one town will be left with a population of two green chili fanciers. In the other, red and green chili proponents will both have two votes. The people in one town are happy —they both want green chillies. But the people in the other town can no longer reach a decision by majority vote.

The only way for everyone to be happy is for two of those who prefer green chillies to move in one direction, while the red chili fan from the town to which they move moves in the opposite direction. There will then be one town with four happy people who like green chillies and another town with two happy people who like red chillies.

Sounds good? Not really. Suppose that instead of chili preferences we were talking about race. Suppose that it were white folks moving in one direction and black folks moving in the other. The optimal outcome is—whoops—racial segregation.

I realize that what I have just read is the simplest possible case of a process described by Thomas C. Schelling in his classic Micromotives and Macrobehavior, where he demonstrates that racial hatred isn’t a necessary condition for residential segregation. All it takes is a mild preference for living with neighbors of “one’s own kind” and a market that allows people to move to satisfy that preference.

What makes all these examples toylike is the premise that only one issue at once is relevant. Add a second issue, e.g., social class as well as race, so that “one’s own kind” may cease to be the group into which one was born and become, instead, the group to which one aspires. Allow a bit of ambivalence and heterogeneity in how different individuals weigh the two desires. Now things get messy.


One Comment to “A Tale of Two Peppers”

  1. I understand that this is just a thought experiment but this kind of situation actually comes up a lot. Let’s say you are going to have a chili at a picnic but someone doesn’t like or can’t tolerate one ingredient, chilies, onions, mushroom etc. So what people naturally do, ahem… what the women naturally do is a make a small batch without the offending ingredient. Concessions are made in order to keep everyone happy.

    What is the macro scale analogue for this? Noblesse oblige? Civic duty? Christian charity? The conclusion seems clear to me. We must drive a stake through the heart of Libertarianism then chop off it’s head and bury it.


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