Arnold Kling

Simulating Social Epidemics

Arnold Kling, Great Questions of Economics
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In April's Atlantic Monthly (not yet on line, but you can see some illustrations with QuickTime), Jonathan Rauch looks at some results from computer simulations of social epidemics. One of the interesting examples is one in which people pair off to make transactions. When both are corrupt, corruption pays; however, when one party is honest corruption does not work. Eventually, in such a society, honesty begins to dominate, because

Every so often...a particularly large number of corrupt agents, who happen to have particularly large networks of friends who perhaps themselves have larger social networks, will be arrested...Fearing that they will meet their friends' fate, the agents behave more honestly; and in doing so they heighten yet further the odds that a corrupt agent will be nailed...Soon--in fact, almost instantly--so many agents are behaving honestly that corruption ceases to pay, and everyone turns honest.

Discussion Question. Underdevelopment and bureaucratic corruption often go together. Could it be that the key to development is experiencing an epidemic of honesty?

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